GESTURING TOWARD THE RENAISSANCE WOMAN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFULLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 ENCLOSING THE FEMININE 21
2 WEAK HANDS AND FEEBLE KNEES 66
3 TWO MINCING STEPS 112
4 MASKERS WITH VIZARDS AND SEMBLANCES 161
5 OBSEQUYE AND OBEDIENCE 210
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 239
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
GESTURING TOWARD THE RENAISSANCE WOMAN
Chairman: Dr. Ira Clark
Major Department: English
My dissertation researches the early modern woman in
England, how conduct books constructed the masculine ideal
of that woman, and how that ideal was further inscribed
through dramatic representations of women by boy actors.
Gesture in the conventional theatrical representations of
women and the conduct book constructions of the feminine
becomes a language that needs decoding to help one
understand the social sensibilities of the early modern
culture and the way in which women were positioned within
Gesture as an outward manifestation of one's inward
will became an increasingly important signifier throughout
the reigns of Elizabeth and James. Bodily comportment
reflected a woman's socio-economic position insofar as her
averted glances, blushes, unfurrowed brows, and non-
threatening posture in general demonstrated her non-
authoritative social status and her economic dependence
upon and passive obedience to her spouse, father, or other
male guardian. Gestures were a self-identif icatory
mechanism that implied fundamental differences in social
position and, therefore, in degree of power or
powerlessness . While noblemen and aristocratic youths were
instructed in refining their gestures to demonstrate their
superior rank and authority, to mime a language of self-
possession and social power, women were admonished to
refine their bodily movements as well, with the opposite
No matter how disciplined this body became, it would,
nevertheless, be considered materially- and ontologically-
inferior by the male-dominant family/maternal ideology.
Each gesture, therefore, became a tacit mea culpa, an
admission of the female body's deficiency. In essence, a
woman was to wear her soul and her role on the exterior of
her body. From the averted glance of her eye to the
abbreviated length of her gait, she was to demonstrate her
role of virgin, wife, or widow with restraint and without
the slightest suggestion of boldness, pride, or self-
possession. Inherent in this coding of the female body was
its requirement to remain outside the public arena and
inside the cellular home of the nuclear family. Therefore,
a woman was twice-enclosed by the physical structure of her
domicile and by her own feminine gesturology.
During the Early Modern Period, England was
experiencing a vast social and economic transition.
Throughout the sixteenth century, the phenomenon of
"enclosure" deprived farmers of arable lands and,
therefore, their livelihood, and converted the rich
landowners' properties into grazing fields bounded by a
seemingly endless labyrinth of hedges that served to
contain the grazing sheep crucial to the lucrative and
expanding cloth industry. 1 Other forms of enclosure were
transpiring as well. The Black Death, having begun its
maleficent mission in 1348, had, by the fifteenth century,
reduced the population in England by a third. This
tremendous decrease in the populace devastated the long-
standing feudal economy. Manorial landlords, in order to
1 William C. Carroll, "The Nursery of Beggary," Enclosure Acts, ed.
Richard Burt and John Michael Archer (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994), 34-47.
Caroll suggests that all lands were not necessarily enclosed for sheep
grazing. In some cases, the lands were enclosed to make them more
arable by employing innovative farming methods that would produce an
improved crop yield. In other cases, lands were enclosed as the result
of personal feuds between members of the gentry. Tenants were not
always opposed to such measures since they, too, profited by them; and
they were not always evicted from the land to become vagrants.
Nevertheless, this does not contradict the fact that land was being
enclosed as a regular practice. Enclosure does not necessarily denote
land being physically walled- or fenced-in. This term applies to the
survive the resultant rising labor costs and falling rents,
began to lease not only their farming land but also their
"mills, marshes, meadows, and parks." 2 Meanwhile, many
disgruntled peasants left their plows behind to join the
large influx of the "masterless" who either abandoned or
were forced off the open fields or out of the spacious
manor houses to live in the often small, crowded houses of
London where they sought refuge and employment. For a
variety of reasons, 3 sixteenth-century London had become the
largest city of Europe. Because London proper was not a
large metropolis, it suffered the ills of overpopulation.
Many inhabitants faced unemployment, inadequate housing,
unsanitary conditions and frequent outbreaks of the bubonic
plague. Those who could not find work or housing were
designated as "vagrants" or "vagabonds" and placed inside
general practice of the privitization of land by the wealthy owners who
wished to take control of it.
2 John C. Coldewey, "Some Economic Aspects of the Late Medieval Drama,"
Contexts for Early English Drama, ed. Marianne G. Briscoe and John C.
Coldewey (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 79.
3 David Bevington, in his introduction to The Complete Works of
Shakespeare, Third Ed. (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1980), suggests
unemployment was caused by Henry VIII' s closing of the monasteries, a
fluctuating wool trade economy, land enclosure, immigrant artisans, and
war veterans returning from the continent. All Bevington' s
introductory material to Shakespeare's plays derive from this edition.
This sense of enclosure further manifested itself in
the emerging nuclear family. Lawrence Stone writes that
the "porosity" or sense of openness to external influences,
typical of all class levels of the late medieval and early
sixteenth-century family, was in "contrast to the more
sealed off and private nuclear family type that was to
develop in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." 4 The
life-style of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries included an urbanized family life, one that
withdrew from the "great hall to the private dining-room." 5
While England was by and large an agrarian nation at this
time, with an approximately 10% urbanized population, much
of the country's activity was focused in London.
This apparently nationalistic notion of enclosure was
evident in the theater as well. During this period, many
of the changes that affected England economically and
demographically, e.g., the shift of a strong economy from
the North and Midlands of England to the Southeast had a
hand in altering dramatic entertainment. The medieval
guilds, which, for centuries, had been responsible for
producing civic drama, were facing strong commercial
4 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800.
Abridged Edition (New York: Harper, 1979) 69.
5 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 95.
competition from business ventures outside their towns.
Staging plays became a financial burden that many guilds
could no longer sustain. Moreover, the English Reformation
brought its own combinations of social and economic change,
none of which fostered guild productions of plays. Parish
drama, produced either by the members of the parish or by
religious guilds, fell by the wayside as well. 6 Parish
accounts show that the proceeds from dramatic productions
frequently were the primary source of income for a country
parish that utilized these funds to maintain their church
buildings. If the performances were financially
successful, the parish took its play on tour to other towns
that for one reason or another did not produce their own
dramas. Beginning around the mid-fifteenth century, it was
not uncommon for troupes of actors to be circulating from
one community to the next, performing in a variety of
venues. One particular record shows a play being performed
in a quarry on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. Inn-yards,
dining halls, and guildhalls were converted into
performance sites as well. Occasionally, a large-scale
production was presented in a town with the assistance of a
hired player and perhaps other professionals brought in
from other locales. Additionally, larger towns produced
Coldewey, "Some Economic Aspects of the Late Medieval Drama," 77-101,
yearly events that were the collaborations of either craft
or religious guilds. Many of these productions, however,
were a series of pageants or dumb shows, out-of-door
ambulatory events that resembled religious processions and
royal progresses. Performances of both a secular and
religious nature moved within towns and cities and about
the country landscape in response to a mostly rural
audience. 7 However, by the last quarter of the sixteenth
century, these "on-the-road" dramas, once performed either
on pageant wagons or in a variety of acting areas within
the towns, were being upstaged by dramas written and played
year-round on a daily basis within the new, stationary
commercial playhouses. 8 Once the first permanent theater
was built in London and professional acting companies
remained in that city, the majority of traveling players
would be those who could not find permanent employment in a
professional acting company in London or who were escaping
an outbreak of the plague. London companies did go on tour
once a year or when business was bad; however, as these
7 Alexandra F. Johnston, in "What if No Texts Survived?" in Contexts for
Early English Drama, ed. Marianne G. Briscoe and John C. Coldewey
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 8-10, draws "preliminary conclusions"
from new external evidence gathered for the Records of Early English
Drama (REED), founded in Toronto in 1975.
8 See Harold Charles Gardiner. Mysteries' End: an Investigation of the
Last Days of the Medieval Religious Stage. New Haven: Yale UP, 1946.
companies became more profitable, toward the end of James
I's reign and into Charles I's, the tours lessened. 9
Steven Mullaney sees the development of professional
dramaturgy in early modern London as a "troublesome and
potentially subversive social phenomenon that threatened
religious and civic hierarchies." 10 Yet, the troublesome
nature of drama was nothing new. Guild representatives who
sat as members of city councils decided whether, for
example, the Chester cycle of plays could be performed.
The records seem to indicate that two or more Protestant
factions were arguing over whether or not certain
representations of religious subject matter were
appropriate. Religious dramas could have been banned or
revised depending upon the objections raised by civic and
religious leaders. Records from York show that between
1568 and 1579, both lay and church leaders ordered
revisions or suppression of plays if they appeared to be
too Catholic or "popish" in nature. 11 In 1549, Edward VI,
9 Gerald Eades Bentley, The Profession of Player in Shakespeare's Time:
1590-1642 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984). See especially Chapter 7.
10 Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in
Renaissance England (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988) vii.
11 Lawrence M. Clopper in "Lay and Clerical Impact on Civic Religious
Drama and Ceremony," in Contexts for Early English Drama, ed. Marianne
G. Briscoe and John C Coldewey (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 102-
129, believes the civic leaders of medieval cities were concerned about
the moral and religious well-being of their city's inhabitants and
obviously surmising the subversive nature of drama, banned
all plays and activities "which might be judged
seditious." 12 Mullaney further argues that, because the
permanent playhouses were marginalized, erected in London's
Liberties, alongside brothels and lazariums, that they were
located on a "more ambivalent staging ground," 13 more than,
say, the religious and civic processionals that became
ideological inscriptions within the city walls. However,
Mullaney himself suggests how unambivalent that staging
ground was for the leper:
Leprosy was no longer excluded from
society in any full sense, as it once
had been, but was instead stationed at
the perimeters of cities and towns, set
apart but maintained in ritual
seclusion. Once free (or condemned) to
wander, the leper was now bound fast to
the horizon of community. His role as
a form of marginal spectacle had
Marginalized or not, the leper has been contained.
Likewise, popular drama, because it was physically located
outside the city walls, was no less regulated. In fact, it
would seem that the popular theater of Elizabethan and
Jacobean London was far more contained than Mullaney
carefully reviewed the plays for their content to ascertain their
12 Clopper, "Lay and Clerical Impact on Civic Religious Drama and
Ceremony, " 121 .
13 Mullaney, The Place of the Stage, viii.
14 Mullaney, The Place of the Stage, 33, emphasis mine.
suggests. Like its medieval predecessors, dramas were
subject to the scrutiny of the government officials in
whose locales they were to be performed. From the reign of
Elizabeth I through that of Charles I, a play could not be
performed unless its manuscript was submitted to and
approved by the Master of the Revels whose autographed
official statement was normally placed at the end of the
manuscript. The Office of the Revels, established by Henry
VIII to supervise court entertainment, gradually evolved
into the position of Master of the Revels who regulated all
theatrical productions. Before a performance, theatrical
companies were required to bring their manuscripts to the
Master for inspection and licensing, for which the theater
owner paid a licensing fee. Dramatists, actors, and
managers were subject to fines and even imprisonment if
they failed to meet the requirements of the Master of the
Revels who had the power to order alteration of the
manuscript or to disallow the play's performance. 15
Moreover, both new plays and revivals were subject to
the Master's inspection. An acting company could
occasionally violate the law and stage an unlicensed play
or add offensive lines to an already-licensed manuscript.
However, plays could be censored for criticizing the
government, either explicitly or implicitly (often through
15 Gerald Eades Bentley, The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare's
Time: 1590-1642 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971). See especially
analogous scenes) ; for unfavorable portrayals of "friendly"
foreign powers; for containing controversial religious
implications; and for the use of profanity or personal
satire. Additionally, a manuscript could be licensed after
a reading and then be censored after its performance, once
the text's dramatization gave the manuscript new meaning.
The Master of the Revels was in a powerful position from
which the official could penalize offenders with varying
degrees of severity, ranging from requiring that
manuscripts be altered to closing a theater or imprisoning
actors and dramatists. 16 Consequently, to violate the
regulations would have been foolhardy, indeed, insofar as
the consequences of such behavior could have meant reduced
profits or the loss of an impresario's and acting company's
livelihood. While medieval drama was subjected to official
censorship, it would seem that it was less scrutinized,
especially since so many players belonged to traveling
troupes that performed in such a variety of towns and
venues. Conversely, once playing in London became a
commercial venture, actors remained in fixed playhouses.
It would appear that early modern drama could have been
facilely observed by the officials, enclosed as it was in a
building just outside a city's perimeter. By the time
James ascended to the throne, impresarios were moving
toward the fully-enclosed hall-type "private house, " as
16 Bentley, The Profession of Dramatist. See especially Chapter 7,
opposed to the amphitheaters that were only partially
roofed. Shakespeare's company had established a daily
performance schedule in Blackfriars, one of the private
theaters located within the city of London. 17
The theater, by Shakespeare's time, had become a
highly-successful commercial venture. It had also become a
political tool with which Elizabeth presented herself to
her subjects as the divinely-ordained monarch who would
shore up and maintain what some theologians perceived to be
a faltering "right ordre" and "degre of people." 18
Justification of monarchical privilege by holy degree and
decree was implemented by Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII.
As Louis Montrose puts it,
The Tudor State sought to legitimate
itself by means of its integration into
a providentially ordered cosmos. But
it could not effectively contain the
ideologically anomalous realities of
heterodoxy, nor arrest the social flux,
that it had helped to set in motion. 19
In order to extricate itself from this paradoxical bind,
the Elizabethan regime had to interpellate its subjects
into a new nationalistic ideology and away from a "popular
and religious culture. . .tainted by the superstitions and
17 Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1987.) See especially Chapter 2.
18 Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547) and A Homily against Disobedience
and Wilful Rebellion (1570): A Critical Edition, ed. Ronald B. Bond
(Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1987) 61, qtd. in Louis Montrose, The Purpose
of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan
Theatre (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996) 20-21.
19 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 21.
idolatrous practices of the old faith." 20 In essence,
Elizabeth produced her own "show" and, more succinctly, her
own "self" by selectively appropriating "popular and
liturgical practices, ceremonial and dramatic forms" and
transforming them into "elaborate and effusive celebrations
of the monarchy...," 21 a process Edwin Davenport terms the
"selective reconstruction of custom." 22 As Montrose
effectively argues, the royal processions "affirmed
principles of good government and reformed religion." 23 For
Elizabeth to achieve the social harmony to which she
aspired, her regime and, therefore, the presentation of her
person in processions had to appear nationalistic in
nature. 24 Ear too much tension still existed between those
who embraced Catholicism and its rites and traditions and
20 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 24.
21 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 25.
22 Edwin Davenport, "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of
Manners," ELH 63 (1996): 259. I am grateful to my colleague Tai-Won
Kim for bringing this article to my attention.
23 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 26.
24 Davenport, in "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of Manners,"
traces this customization of ritual, begun with the early Elizabethan
reformers. Various Royal and Episcopal Injunctions sought to remove
the "popishness" from religious practices. Davenport quotes a 1561
bishop's injunction that demands ministers "neither use any gestures of
the popish Mass, in the time of ministration of the Communion, as
shifting of the book, washing, breathing, crossing, or such like" (256-
7). Other injunctions were careful to maintain a sense of gendered
hierarchy in religious processions in which community members could
participate annually "with the curate and the substantial men of the
parish" (263) . Davenport writes, "Royal Injunctions were interpreted
to restrict the gender, number, and station of Rogation observers,
redefining the practice by specifying who could participate in it"
those who continued to seek religious reform. While the
Reformation brought Protestantism to England, Elizabeth's
brand of religion was state-sanctioned. 25 By utilizing the
forms of religious procession and dramatic presentation,
she created herself as a religio-political icon that
represented the Nation of England. 26
While some social historians see this transformation
of the medieval procession as the loss of a popular and
religious culture to the gain of a secular order, 27 others
see it as the move from the religio-civic community to the
"disciplinary state hierarchy." 28 Montrose reads this move
as "one that incorporates the local within a national
framework and subordinates it to the political and cultural
25 Leonard Tennenhouse, "Playing and Power," Staging the Renaissance:
Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott
Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991} . Tennenhouse
says that Elizabeth's coat of arms replaced the religious images of the
English church and that her sexual body assumed the power of those
usurped images. He writes that paintings and engravings of the queen
at times conjoined her body with England's terrain or ornamented it
with symbols of power and wealth.
26 See John N. King, Tudor Royal Iconography: Literature and Art in an
Age of Religious Crisis (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989) and Frances
Amelia Yates, Astraea: the Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century
(Boston: Routledge, 1975.
27 I draw from Louis Montrose who, in The Purpose of Playing, summarizes
the work of Mervyn James in Society, Politics and Culture: Studies in
Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1986) 16-47; and Charles
Phythian-Adams, "Ceremony and the citizen: The communal year at
Coventry 1450-1550," in Crisis and Order in English Towns 1500-1700,
ed. Peter Clark and Paul Slack (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972)
28 Montrose, in The Purpose of Playing, 26, is characterizing an
argument by Miri Rubin in Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late
Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1991).
center." 29 While I find all of these arguments valid, I
believe that another issue needs to be addressed. For
Elizabeth, as the odd mixture of woman and prince, these
progresses also became the transmutation of the masculine
into the feminine, an Ovidian metamorphosis of omnipotent
prince into the antithesis of the Renaissance notion of
woman. Elizabeth had to prove that, although she was a
woman, she was, none the less, a prince and the sovereign
of her realm. In utilizing the dramatic form of the
procession to affirm her sovereignty, she subverted a long-
standing tradition. I say this because, although these
medieval religious processions were communal in nature,
they were always led by authoritative male church
officials 30 in order to maintain a gendered social
hierarchy. While Elizabeth utilized the procession to
retain the long-established "chain of being" which placed a
monarch above her subjects, she simultaneously ruptured
that chain by placing a woman in a position of ultimate
human authority. From the beginning of time, no matter
where a woman found herself in the pecking order, she was
always subordinated to her male social counterpart. Of
course, Elizabeth was anything but the normative woman.
More like the Virgin Mary than her sister Mary, Elizabeth
29 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 23.
30 Miri Rubin sees these medieval processions as a display and
reinscription of the social hierarchy that "excluded most working
people, women, children, visitors and servants. ..." Qtd. in
Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 23.
became the perpetual virgin whose body was set apart,
unpenetrated and worshipped from afar. Elizabeth, in the
body of a woman, was an oxymoron as a female patriarch,
and, as such, was a woman who appeared accountable to no
one but God. None the less, the queen had to work
diligently to maintain such a position, continually
displaying a body that exceeded its "natural" limitations.
Elizabeth's feminization of the dramatic adumbrates a
stock polemic employed by religious moralists who would
monotonously argue throughout Elizabeth's reign and beyond
that the theater, by its very nature, was feminine. It was
a threat to a male-dominant society because it sexually
aroused male spectators, weakening their moral fiber and
turning them into women. Boy actors, the theatrical
detractors asserted, were feminized when they played women
characters; and male spectators, in turn, were feminized by
the allure of these female characters. Antitheatrical
tracts repeatedly attack the theater as a feminine
institution, one that had progressively been brought
indoors, enclosed, officially observed, and when necessary,
censored by the state.
Obviously, the drama presented on the Elizabethan and
Jacobean stage was not the overtly didactic and moralistic
fare its medieval predecessors had been fed. And, judging
from the vituperative antitheatrical discourse of the later
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, "stage plays were no
longer appropriate vehicles for communicating Protestant
doctrine" 31 or any religious doctrine for that matter. 32
Once London playgoing became a commercial venture and
players remained in fixed venues, dramatists established an
intimate relationship with their audiences, supplying them
with constantly evolving repertories. Since playgoers were
paying for their entertainment, their tastes and money
quickly took precedence over the didacticism of morality
plays and the like. 33 Eventually, contemporary newsworthy
incidents became the subject matter for plays, including
sensationalized murders, court conspiracies, and witch
trials. 34 We know that playwrights took license with their
themes, and sometimes risked offending the ruling monarch,
as Shakespeare in all probability did with his Richard II.
The famous deposition scene is missing from the earlier
quartos of the play, implying that the censor had removed
it because of its "libelous analogy" to Queen Elizabeth I.
31 Davenport, "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of Manners," 255.
32 Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England
(New York: Routledge, 1994), writes that while these antitheatrical
tracts gave accounts of the functioning of the Renaissance theater,
they also exposed the writers' own ideological productions. One
author, a preacher, identifies the theater as an anti-religious
institution that destroys the social fabric. However, his primary
concern is for an audience that had the choice of the theater or church
on Sunday. While these antitheatrical tracts assault the theater, the
authors' own interests emerge regarding their desire to retain some
form of power within the social status quo.
33 Gurr, in Playgoing in Shakespeare' s London, suggests that education,
social, and political allegiances, and many other factors had a bearing
on what type of play was written for each playhouse, thereby reflecting
to some degree the poets' and actors' expectations of their audiences.
See especially Chapter 4 .
Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare' s London. See especially Chapter 5.
It seems likely that this play gave Elizabeth reason to
believe she was being compared to Richard II, placing
Shakespeare's company in great jeopardy before they were
ultimately exonerated. 35 As a result of censorship, Ben
Jonson was incarcerated, along with his collaborators
Chapman and Marston, for his critique of King James's
"notorious practice of selling knighthoods for thirty
pounds," 36 for a pointed barb aimed at the King's Scottish
accent, and for a critique of James's plan to unite
Scotland and England. 37 This was not the first time Jonson
had been censored and imprisoned. Eight years earlier, he
found himself in a similar situation for the material in
his Isle of Dogs.
Boy companies felt the eyes of monarchical vigilance
as well. Famous for their railing against "upstart"
citizens, nobility, and civic and religious authorities,
boy companies had seen a run of popularity, playing in the
private theaters within the city limits. When the private
theaters were closed for almost ten years, the play-boys
were silenced. In 1598, however, they were permitted to
resume performing, 38 but the license the young actors
35 David Bevington, introduction, The Tragedy of King Richard the
36 David Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989)
37 Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life, 122-23.
38 Bevington, introduction, As You Like It, 358.
enjoyed was ultimately curtailed when, in 1613, an adult
company absorbed the last surviving children's troupe. By
this time, James was favoring the court masque, one reason
perhaps for the demise of the children's companies. 39 More
than likely, too, the boy players' unrestrained ridicule
stepped on too many noble and royal toes. By the time of
Charles I's accession, plays were politically charged and
hostile toward the frivolous nature of the court and the
King's inattention to the grievances of his loyal country
constituency. 40 The professional stage became the venue
from which dramatists expressed their and, perhaps in large
measure, their paying audience's growing discontent with
At the same time that playwrights were dramatizing
political grievances, the religious moralists and
antitheatricalists in general were churning out
publications filled with disdain for the theater. 41 While
the Elizabethan government found the bifurcation of the
39 Michael Shapiro, Children of the Revels: The Boy Companies of
Shakespeare's Times and Their Plays (New York: Columbia UP, 1977). See
especially Chapter 1.
40 Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis: 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1984). See especially Chapter 10.
41 These antitheatrical texts were representative of only one viewpoint.
As Davenport, in "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of Manners,"
cautions, "If a host of theologians and ministers were ready to
disallow a custom for its pagan connections or unsavory character,
others could appeal to tradition or its social utility to preserve it"
(256). I am not suggesting that there weren't as many proponents of
the theater as detractors. I am referencing antitheatrical literature
to elucidate the connection between the feminized and inferiorized
regarding both the theater and a woman's body.
religious and the dramatic expedient, writers like William
Prynne could not achieve such a rupture. The marginalia of
his exhaustive antitheatrical polemic Histriomastix spill
over with biblical references to support his argument that
the theater is effeminate and immoral. Additionally,
Prynne utilizes classical authorities to support his
Christian stand. In regard to the feminine nature of the
theater, Prynne' s argument reads as follows:
That whose very action is
effeminate, must needs be unlawfull
But the very action of Stage-
playes is effeminate.
Therefore, it musts needs be
unlawfull unto Christians. 42
In particular, the theater is effeminizing as well as
effeminate because boy actors are transformed into the
"very habit and order of Strumpets, to the great injury and
dishonour of their age and sexe: a thing which Moses doth
much condemne." 43 Classical writers, Prynne says, contend
in all scenicall arts. . . there is
plainely the patronage of Bacchus and
Venus which are peculiarly proper to
the Stage. From the gesture and
flexure of the body, they sacrifice
effeminacy to Venus and Bacchus; the
one of them being effeminate by her
sexe, the other by his flux, etc. 44
William Prynne, Histriomastix (London, 1633) 168.
Prynne, Histriomastix, 168.
44 Prynne, Histriomastix, 168
Added to this wicked behavior, says Prynne,
Another equall wickednesse is super-
added. A man enfeebled in all his
joynts, resolved into a more than
womanish effeminancy, whose art is to
speake with his hands and gestures,
come forth upon the Stage: and for this
one, I know not whom, neither man nor
woman, the whole Citie flocke together,
that so the fabulous lusts of antiquity
may be acted. 45
Prynne cites further examples of the depravity that results
from boys being trained to impersonate women, how a "male
might be effeminated into a female" through attire and
gestures, gestures which are "most unchaste" simply because
they are performed and ultimately because they "provoke
lust." 46 Even though in one example Prynne discusses a boy
actor who impersonates a "tender virgin," the boy's
gestures continue to be "abominable." 47 Prynne asserts that
all feminine and feminizing gestures are tantalizing to
men. Therefore, a boy actor playing a virgin is branded a
"whore" through his feminine gestures.
As Sue-Ellen Case demonstrates, the "female body had
become the site for sexuality" 48 when the medieval Catholic
Church banned women from the stage to prevent the theater
45 Prynne, Histriomastix, 168
Prynne, Histriomastix, 169.
47 Prynne, Histriomastix, 169.
Sue-Ellen Case, Feminism and Theatre (New York: Methuen, 1988) 20.
from becoming the "site for immoral sexual conduct." 49 Once
young boys became highly skilled in representing the female
body, 50 the very mimesis of that body became the material
site of an uncontrolled eroticism, the object of derision
and censure, and the locus upon which to inscribe a
powerful ideology that positioned women as the physically,
morally, and intellectually inferior gender. I will argue
below that feminine gesturology in both early modern drama
and in conduct books for women resurrects and reinscribes
an age-old notion of the female body as inferior in every
Case, Feminism and Theatre, 20.
50 While a twentieth-century audience may have difficulty understanding
how an early modern audience could accept such a mimesis, Stephen
Orgel, in Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's
England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), suggests, "Whether boys are
thought to look like women or not depends on how society constructs the
norm of womanliness; clearly it is in our interests to view boys as
versions of men, but the Renaissance equally clearly sought the
similitude in boys and women" (70) .
ENCLOSING THE FEMININE
Prior to the theater's closing in London, vituperative
antitheatrical discourse was being disseminated in street
tracts, in sermons preached from the pulpit, 1 and in books
like Prynne's Histriomastix. As mentioned above, a good
deal of this discourse denounced the theater for feminizing
its young play-boys and for emasculating its male
spectators. Cross-dressed boy actors, the polemicists
insisted, were arousing sexual desire in the male
spectators who were, in turn, enfeebled and transformed
into women since they lost control of their sexual desire
as they lusted after the ensnaring female characters.
As Levine and Orgel have suggested, men were becoming
anxious over cross-dressing and its ability to either
feminize and disempower them or to accomplish the inverse
in women. 2 The fear of emasculation was nothing new in the
According to the antitheatrical polemicist Stephen Gosson, in Playes
Confuted in Five Actions (London, 1582), the "abhominable practices of
playes m London haue bene by godly preachers, both at Paules cross,
and else where, so zealously, so learnedly, so loudly cried out upon"
(2) that no one has heard the words for hearing them so frequently.
2 Laura Levine, in Men in Women's Clothing: Antitheatricality and
Effeminization, 1579 to 1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1994)
convincingly argues that much of the antitheatrical rhetoric prevalent
during the early modern period was driven by a male anxiety that boys
Renaissance and finds its roots in medieval theology.
Margaret Hallissy writes that because celibacy was
considered a "higher estate," connubial sexual intercouse
was practiced by those considered incapable of "rational
control over a bodily part." 3 The theory continued that
women arouse men, making them inferior, and emasculating
them. Augustine states, "I know nothing which brings the
manly mind down from the height more than a woman's
caresses." 4 Stephen Orgel concludes that the foremost fear
articulated by antitheatrical writers, such as William
Prynne, John Rainolds, and Philip Stubbes, was the "fear of
a universal ef feminization. " 5 Because the theater, like a
woman's body or its mere representation, aroused men's
sexuality, it had to be contained and controlled.
and men playing the parts of women would entice male spectators,
causing them to lust and to be effeminized. Stephen Orgel, in
Impersonations, carries Levine's argument beyond the theater, positing
that such behavior was culturally ubiquitous. Women, too, through
their dress and comportment, could become men, subjects instead of
objects, posing a threat to a male-dominated society. Richard
Brathwaite, in The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631), suggests that
sloth or sensuality turns men into women, women into beasts, and beasts
into monsters. See also Mary Beth Rose. "Women in Men's Clothing:
Apparel and Social Stability in The Roaring Girl." English Literary
Renaissance, 14 (1984), 139-51.
3 Margaret Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows:
Chaucer's Women and Medieval Codes of Conduct (Westport, CT: Greenwood
P, 1993) 13.
Qtd. in Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 13.
5 Orgel, Impersonations, 29.
Although Prynne's compendious text is the longest
antitheatrical polemic, it is not the first, nor the last,
of its kind. Stephen Gosson, previously a writer and
defender of plays, has been "cured" of the theater, much
like his antitheatricalist predecessor Plato, 6 and now
perceives drama as the devil's work. The theater, Gosson
argues, should not be "suffred in a christian com[m]on
weale." 7 In Playes Confuted in Five Actions (1582), the
last of his three antitheatrical tracts, Gosson attacks the
players for wearing women's clothes and for utilizing
feminine gestures. He rehearses the well-worn argument
from Deuteronomy regarding cross-dressing:
The Law of God very straightly forbids
men to put on wome[n]s garments,
garments are set downe for signes
distinctiue betwene sexe & sexe, to
take unto us those garments that are
manifest signes of another sexe, is to
falsifie, forge, and adulterate,
contrarie to the expresse rule of the
words of God. 8
Gosson continues by attacking players in regard to their
3 Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: U of California
P, 1981) . Barish says Plato had an "early passionate apprenticeship"
to the theater but was dissuaded from this attachment to drama "by the
teaching of Socrates" (5) .
Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4.
8 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4.
All that do so [cross-dress] are
abhomination un[to] the Lord, which way
I beseech you shall they bee excused,
that put on, not the apparrell onely,
but the gate, the gestures, the voyce,
the passions of a woman.... 9
Gosson then likens the players' feminine gestures to the
"windinge of a snake," 10 employing an oblique reference to
the Garden of Eden, conflating the theater with the female
body. Because the theater is feminine, Gosson reasons, it
is lewd and evil. Like a disorderly woman, it is a
potential threat to the gendered hierarchy. If enclosure
into a theaterhouse has not sufficiently suppressed drama,
then firmer measures must be taken. History proves this to
be the case in 1642.
Because gesture was deployed, along with costumes, to
transform a young boy actor into a female character, it
became a target for antitheatrical attacks. Gesture, 11 like
language, Gosson opines, must be used honestly:
Let us therefore consider what a lye
is, a lye is...an acte executed where it
ought not. This acte is discerned by
outward signes, euery man must show
himself outwardly to be such as in deed
9 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4.
10 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4.
11 I will be relying on John P. Hermann's definition of gesture, in
"Gesture and Seduction in Troilus and Criseyde, " in Chaucer's Troilus &
Criseyde, ed. R. A. Shoaf (Binghamton: Medieval & Renaissance Tests &
Studies, 1992) 138-160. Hermann defines gesture as "any expressive
bodily sign, such as a change in bodily position, a movement of the
body, a change in hue, or even a sign" (139) .
he is. Outward signes consist eyther
in words or gestures, to declare our
selues by wordes or by gestures to be
otherwise then we are, is an act
executed where it should not, therefore
a lye. 12
Gesture both on and off the boards was taken seriously, as
Gosson points out, so seriously that, if gestures do not
represent a person's inner self, then such behavior is
John Rainoldes, in 2" Hoverthrow of Stage-Playes
(1599), continues to tear at the already threadbare concept
of the "abominable evill in Gods sight" of men in women's
clothing. Cross-dressing incites "sparkles of lust" in men
and "may kindle in vncleane affections." 13 Like Gosson
before him, Rainoldes perceives all feminizing gestures to
be lascivious. It is bad enough that young men "come
foorth in hoores attire, like the lewde woman in Proverbs,"
but it is worse to teach them "to counterfeit her actions,
her wanton kisse, her impudent face, her wicked speeches
and enticements." 14
Again, all dramatic representations of woman fall into
the single category of "whore"; therefore, all feminine
12 Gosson, "The 3 Action," Playes Confuted in Five Actions, n. pag.
13 John Rainoldes et al., Th' overthrow of Stage-Playes (1599; New York:
Garland, 1974) 11.
Rainoldes, Th' overthrow of Stage-Playes, 17
gesturology is wanton and demeaning. As Jonas Barish
reminds us, representation or imitation has been an axe
initially ground by Plato and re-whetted by Renaissance
antitheatricalists. Barish writes,
Consideration of the antitheatrical
prejudice must begin with Plato, who
first articulated it, and to whom its
later exponents regularly return in
support of their proscriptions and
Socrates believed that imitation was the "bringing into
being of an inferior world," 16 a concept he taught Plato.
Following the voice of antiquity, early modern
antitheatricalists easily conflated the inferior, imitative
theater with the second-rate, mimetic woman's body. As
contemporary medical treatises avowed, in spite of new
scientific findings, a woman's body was substandard, a poor
copy of her male counterpart's perfect body. 17
Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 5,
16 Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 6.
Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud
(Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990). Laqueur speaks of the "one-flesh model"
that existed from classical antiquity to the end of the seventeenth
century. Laqueur says women were perceived as "men turned outside in"
(4) and were, therefore, considered inferior imitations of men.
What is more, Plato 18 and his early modern successors
believed that this imitative gesturology was dangerous for
the young actors, for after
much meditation of sundry dayes and
weekes, by often repetition and
representation of the partes, shall as
it were engraue the things in their
minde with a penne of iron, or with the
point of a diamond. 19
Of interest in Rainoldes' argument is the concept that
gestures not only reflect the condition of one's soul, but
they also, if imitated with perseverance, transform one's
soul. This idea that one's imagination could transform
one's inner being was the basis of Plato's extreme censure
of the theater. Of Plato, Edgar Wind writes, "Hence he
found miming a most perilous exercise, and he devised
curious laws that would prohibit the miming of extravagant
or evil characters." 20 This, I believe, is the crux of
early modern thinking in regard to feminine gesturology and
its performance. Although Rainoldes and his coevals argue
that one's outward material gestures reflect one's inward
spiritual essence, they believe and fear the "truth" taught
18 Barish, in The Antitheatrical Prejudice, writes that Plato believed
actors should only imitate "suitable" models, a paradigm that did not
include women, slaves, villains, madmen, tradesmen, etc. (21).
19 Rainoldes, Th' overthrow of Stage-Playes, 19.
Qtd. in Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 30.
them by the ancients that one's outward significations are
capable of altering one's inner soul. While Plato's bias
was toward the imagination, the early modern moralists
directed their tendentious argument at the feminine.
As I will discuss below, the notion of one's gestures
being constitutive of one's moral fiber, of one's soul,
becomes a crucial issue in regard to women and the conduct
books written for and about them. This soul is similar in
nature to the Foucaudian modern soul 21 that is constructed
through one's trained, repetitive behavior. For the
writers of conduct books, gestures become the sine qua non
for the expression of a woman's inner self because conduct
books continually admonish her to keep silent.
Additionally, and I believe of far greater consequence,
gestures, more than attire, become the material that
fabricates the passive feminine soul and, thereby,
constructs a woman's docile body.
Like the antitheatrical treatises, conduct books for
women warn against the evils of the theater. Women, these
texts tell us, "take lesse pleasure at a Sermon then at a
Comedy; they go rather to heare a Buffon, then a
21 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,
trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979).
Preacher." 22 Since the Church was one of the primary
institutions utilized to control women, it became
problematic when they began to attend the theater for two
reasons. First, they were seeing representations of women
on stage who appeared to have a measure of freedom not
normative for the early modern woman, especially women like
Moll Frith, in Dekker and Middleton' s The Roaring Girl, who
dressed like a man and circulated freely within her world
of pickpockets and prostitutes. 23 Second, until James
banned Sunday performances, women were attending theater
performances instead of going to church services. 24 Not
only was church doctrine regarding the "place" of women
being eroded, but the hearing of it was also being avoided.
As Barish succinctly puts it, the mimesis of drama
threatened long-established institutional structures:
By the closeness of the imitative
process, in which it mimes the actual
unfolding of events in time, before the
22 Jacques DuBosc, "Of Reading," The Compleat Woman, (London: 1639) 15.
I give the chapter title here and following since the pagination of the
text is irregular and not always continuous from chapter to chapter.
23 Stephen Orgel, in Impersonations, argues, however, that this would
not be a real strategem for upper- and middle-class women regarding the
crossing of gender boundaries. More than likely, Moll represents
lower-class women who oftentimes cross-dressed as a means to gain
employment in jobs that were, for the most part, occupied by men.
24 Martin Butler, Theater and Crisis: 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1984). Butler writes that James forbade playing in non-courtly
theaters on Sundays in response to the objections raised by the
Puritans who were not against the theater but against its competing
with Sunday church services.
spectators' eyes, it has an unsettling
way of being received by its
audiences. ..as reality pure and simple.
As such, it implicitly constitutes a
standing threat to the primacy of the
reality propounded from lecturn and
Jean E. Howard suggests that the stage not only affirmed
the dominant ideology but that it also cleared space for
marginalized groups, becoming the site of cultural
contestation. Both reaffirming and subversive, the diverse
nature of the theater reflected contesting ideologies whose
struggle for power is located both in the production itself
and also in the audience. Howard argues that the theater
did not simply reaffirm masculine and aristocratic power
any more than it facilely served as a subversive site of
that power. Its diverse nature encouraged discourse that
at once harmonized diversity and exposed particular
ideological interests while opening a gap to create new
subject positions. 26
Ania Loomba suggests that in Renaissance drama, the
view of a stable, homogeneous patriarchal establishment is
problematized by the lack of closure found in the plays.
This sense of chaos and resistance to the dominant ideology
Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 79.
26 Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England
(New York: Routledge, 1994) .
is reflected in the portrayal of the disobedient or
problematic woman. Yet, she believes this view of woman is
far from consistent, further problematizing the supposed
patriarchal hegemony. Moreover, that hegemony is called
into question through the female characters' antagonism
toward it and through the resultant conflicts. While on
the one hand, these texts appear to emphasize the
consolidation of patriarchy; on the other hand, they do not
provide an adequate closure to confirm such authority.
Loombia examines the disobedient or disorderly woman in
Jacobean tragedies. In this genre, although women do
subvert the dominant ideology in various ways, they are
almost always punished for their disobedience, often
through torture and death.
With the many social changes affecting early modern
Europe, it was important that the concept of a stable,
unmoving society be more deeply inscribed in the minds of
the people. Most particularly, in light of the changing
social hierarchy, the position of women needed to be
redefined in texts from religious tracts to conduct books
to literature. 27 Perhaps this is another reason why conduct
books were appearing in such large numbers during the same
27 Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama (Delhi: Oxford UP,
time commercial theater was reaching its zenith in
popularity. Women, Andrew Gurr believes, would have been
no less affected by their audience participation in the
theater than their male counterparts as they saw both
dominant and emergent ideologies played out in front of
them. 28 This, of course, was a concern of the Puritan
theologians as they penned their antitheatrical tracts.
Gurr discusses the many complicating factors that
contribute to the appraisal of what he terms a
"Shakespearean" audience that covers a seventy-five-year
period from 1567, when the first amphitheater playhouse was
built, to 1642, when the theaters were closed. While
research has given us an understanding of the material
circumstances surrounding the performance of a text, it has
not uncovered the interaction between player and playgoer.
The receivers of a performance text, Gurr argues, are an
important ingredient of the "mechanism of transmission" 29 of
that text. Therefore, he says, knowledge of the audiences
will augment our knowledge of Shakespearean dramaturgy. As
each new wave of criticism approaches an understanding of
the early modern audience, new information comes to light
28 Andrew Gurr, introduction, Playgoing in Shakespeare' s London
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987).
Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare' s London, 3.
in regard to the material and ideological circumstances
that surround the early modern audience.
Through my study of early modern conduct books for
women, I have discovered an apparent correlation between
the instructions women received in regard to their bodily
comportment and the feminine gesturology female characters
deployed on the stage. As Gurr writes, the social and
mental composition of an audience varied greatly within the
period he addresses. He does add, however, that, while the
Shakespearean audience included persons ranging from the
nobility to the destitute, the rising middle classes,
ranging from urban artisans to scriveners and clergy,
comprised a large portion of the Shakespearean audience.
The women of the middle classes seem to be the object of
discussion for the conduct book writers, and as Gurr
writes, it appears that citizens' wives attended the
theater regularly where they would have had the opportunity
to view male-constructed representations of women. How
representative of, or subversion of, the dominant ideology
they are remains open to question. Ultimately, I find them
While conduct books admonish women to stay indoors to
avoid attending the theater, they also instruct them to
eschew almost every other social function that takes them
away from their domestic duties. Like the theater,
feminized bodies must be enclosed and controlled. 30 These
texts find their roots in medieval courtesy books which
themselves are based on the writings of the early Church
fathers and classical authors and were "written by men for
the women under their authority, circulating to other men
for their use in guiding the women of their households." 31
They find further strength from the Reformation, which
relied heavily on the reading of scripture, a scripture
written by and about the patriarchy. On the practical
side, if a woman did not choose a life of celibacy in a
convent, then her only other option to economic security
was marriage, since marriage was still the only ground upon
which a woman could achieve any measure of accomplishment. 32
A woman, therefore, needed to be socialized appropriately
if her father was to succeed in securing her a husband.
On the ideological side, however, these conduct books
could have been written to maintain a gendered hierarchy of
social, political, and economic domination. During the
I follow Loomba's argument in Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama. I see
the enclosure of a woman's body analagous to that of the theater. As
Loomba argues, a woman's mobility and duplicity became a threat to the
status quo, as was the case with the theater. As I have shown in my
introduction, the theater became "housed" much like the ideal wife of
the conduct books.
31 Margaret Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 19.
Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, li
fourteenth century, some women were beginning to achieve a
measure of independent financial success, especially those
who owned a business or worked at a trade in an urban
center. No longer reliant upon the land, or the husband
who had owned it, a woman could have seen the opportunity
to become economically successful on her own. Yet,
Shulamith Shahar wonders whether women were aware of their
inferior position in society, whether they responded to
that status, and, if so, how. There seems to be no
evidence of a woman's movement. Moreover, since women
wrote very little and our knowledge of their lives is
largely from indirect sources, it is difficult to know
whether any significant rebellions against their
subordinate status took place. 33
Caroline Walker Bynum writes that misogyny in the
later Middle Ages was evidenced in theological,
philosophical, and scientific theory and incorporated in
male/female binary oppositions such as intellect/body,
active/passive, rational/irrational, etc. 34 Although
33 Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle
Ages, trans. Chaya Galai (London: Routledge, 1983). See especially
Chapter 1 .
34 Julia 0' Faolain and Lauro Martines, ed., Wot in God's Image (New
York: Harper and Row, 1973); Vern L. Bullough, "Medieval Medical and
Scientific Views of Women," Viator 4 (1973): 487-93; and Eleanor C.
McLaughlin, "Equality of Souls, Inequality of Sexes: Women in Medieval
Theology," in Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and
aristocratic women were capable of running estates for
absentee husbands, and middle-class women managed
businesses, their roles as mother and wife were demeaned
and even ridiculed. Furthermore, as women increasingly
became the majority of the population, their dowries were
enlarged, deeming the birth of daughters as anything but
fortuitous. Yet, Bynum argues against the traditional
historical belief that women internalized their persecution
and adopted roles of self-abnegation. She suggests that,
alongside the misogynist images of women, positive images
flourished, as evidenced in the worship of the Virgin Mary
and in an increased number of women being canonized.
There were even some instances of female clergy and
deities and the occasional spiritual metaphors that related
to a woman's fecundity as well as her sexual experience and
married life. 35 However, as Bynum points out, these female
spiritual models were, in large measure, developed by men,
a conclusion drawn by Weinstein and Bell. 36 Bynum continues
that women did not develop a "religious subculture" to
Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Ruether (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1974) 213-66.
35 Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender
and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone, 1992) .
36 Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M. Bell, Saints and Society: The Two
Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000 to 1100 (Chicago: U of Chicago P,
counter misogyny; their religiosity and devotion to Christ
increased, along with that of men. Bynum does say that,
unlike their male counterparts, women emphasized penance,
especially "in the form of food deprivation, self-inflicted
suffering and an interpretation of illness as religious
experience." 37 It would seem that these "self-inflicted"
material practices were a means of marking a woman's body
as inferior, an externalization of an internalized
perception of deficiency.
In addition, Bynum says, women's somatic experiences
were encouraged by the clergy and used as proof against
heretical movement while simultaneously keeping women under
a male religious thumb. Half-starved women wouldn't have
had much energy left to found a feminist movement, much
less leave their cells. The practice of marking the
external as inferior is evidenced in early modern conduct
books where secular women are enjoined to employ
specifically feminine gestures to inscribe themselves as
inferior. Bynum does not support the "argument that women
shaped their self-conception either in conformity with or
in opposition to the misogynist image of Eve." 38 Instead,
37 Bynum, Fragmentation, 154,
Bynum, Fragmentation, 155,
she envisions active religious women whose devotional lives
were filled with visions of Christ and a belief in a
mystical union with him.
This union with Christ becomes a theme in early modern
conduct books as well, but only as a reinscription of a
family ideology in which middle-class housewives find
themselves subsumed beneath male authority figures, both
hallowed and human. Shahar writes that female mystics,
while unique in regard to their elevated status and
respect, won recognition because of their personalities,
not as a result of their ecclesiastical rank. The Church
may have recognized these mystics and their prophetic
power, but it also made clear that prophecy was a gift from
God and not a sacrament. Unlike Bynum, Shahar argues that
female inferiority was not forgotten; women were still
barred from the priesthood. 39 In the final instance,
extreme bodily self-discipline 40 was a woman's sine qua non,
her agency to the masculine, without which she was nothing.
39 Shahar, The Fourth Estate.
While religious men adhered to extreme forms of bodily self-
discipline, Bynum, in Fragmentation, writes that, for men, becoming
female and weak was a requisite to spiritual submission and a sign of
meekness and worldly rejection. Male religious leaders and monks often
describe themselves in feminine terms. However, men who "became" women
considered themselves superior to a natural woman whose gender was not
"chosen," not a sign of conversion. Women had no ability to "become"
female and, as a result, could never fully renounce the world as their
male counterparts could.
Lawrence Stone believes the early modern woman was,
more than likely, as "submissive and as dependent as the
conduct books suggested that they ought to be." 41 Using
records of crimes committed by women during the late
sixteenth century, he concludes that women had a "minimal
share" 42 in serious and violent crimes. The only areas in
which they displayed resistance were in partaking in food
riots or displaying "dissident religious opinions." 43 While
it appears that wives lost status during the sixteenth and
early seventeenth centuries, it is not entirely clear why.
Perhaps, as Stone suggests, the creation of the nuclear
family simultaneously gave the husband more concentrated
power and took from the wife a measure of protection she
may have been afforded as part of an extended family
environment . 44
What's more, once Henry VIII broke with the Roman
Catholic Church, confiscated its holdings, and closed the
abbeys and nunneries, even women of means were left with
little option other than marriage since the alternative
41 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800.
Abridged Edition. New York: Harper, 1979, 141.
42 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 141.
43 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 141.
44 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 141.
life of a cloistered, devout virgin dissolved, along with
Henry's first marriage. Lawrence Stone comments,
Many, but by no means all, of these
[upper-class] girls probably found the
religious life a satisfying alternative
career to an arranged marriage. For
those women who sought power, the life
of an abbess was clearly preferable
even to that of an aristocratic wife. 45
With the dissolution of convents came the abolishment of
saint worship. This, says Lisa Jardine, "removed a moral
support from women which went unexpectedly deep." 46 She
quotes Natalie Davis:
The loss of the saints affected men and
women unequally. Reformed prayer could
no longer be addressed to a woman,
whereas the masculine identity of the
Father and Son was left intact. 47
Ian Maclean argues that, even though the Virgin Mary
and other female saints were depicted as female exemplars,
it "cannot be said...that such praise is to the advantage of
the mass of women, who, by contrast with these saintly
exceptions, remain associated with weaker reason, stronger
passions and greater inherent vice." 48 The Virgin Mary, in
45 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 38.
46 Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble)
47 Quoted in Jardine, 50.
48 Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (Cambridge: Cambridqe
UP, 1980) 22.
particular, represents an unattainable womanly ideal, for
she is represented as a fertile and perpetual virgin who,
although married to a man, was impregnated by God, gave
birth without pain, and nursed not just a child but the
Christian savior. 49
Although the Reformation took away power from the
Church Fathers, the Holy Father, and Catholic priests, a
new, ever-present power now resided in the father of the
nuclear family. Lawrence Stone writes that perhaps the
most significant result of the Reformation was a new
emphasis on the household which became the
inheritor of many of the
responsibilities of the parish and the
Church; the family head was the
inheritor of much of the authority and
many of the powers of the priest. 50
While Keith Wrightson' s picture of the nuclear family
attempts to modify the "stereotype of marital relations" 51
in which male authority seems a given and which is espoused
in conduct books of the day, he does conclude, however:
49 For the summary, I have utilized material from St. Peter Canisius'
work De Maria Virgine incomparabili (1577), quoted by Maclean in The
Renaissance Notion of Woman. Maclean further comments that Mary is, in
fact, "not of her sex," exempt as she is "from all female vice and
imperfection" and "so remote... from others of her sex" (23) .
50 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 104.
51 Keith Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680 (New Brunswick: Rutgers
UP, 1982) 92.
In the domestic economy, decision-
making, conflict resolution and sexual
behaviour, mutuality in marriage,
within a context of ultimate male
authority, may well have been not only
the conjugal ideal, but also the common
practice among the English people as a
This curtailment of women's freedom surfaces in
medieval drama as well, perhaps reflecting a rising anxiety
about the unusual status female religious figures had been
granted. As Shahar writes, by the twelfth century, the
belief in the Virgin Mary as Holy Mother and mediator
between Heaven and earth was elaborated on from a fifth-
century doctrine. Along with the Virgin Mary, Mary
Magdalene was worshipped and claimed by Abelard to be a
heavenly mediator as well. Even though the virgin nun was
elevated in the eyes of the Church, she was not permitted
to hold any ecclesiastical office or to perform any
ceremonial duties. 53 This paradox of the venerated and
contained is evident, for example, in the titular heroine
of the Digby "Mary Magdelene" who is depicted in the drama
from her containment in a patrimonial household to her
period of sexual incontinence and, finally, to her
spiritual conversion. Ultimately she enters heaven where
52 Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680, 100.
53 Shahar, The Fourth Estate. See especially Chapter 3.
she returns to another sort of domestic containment under
the Father of all fathers.
A similar sense of enclosure is evident in pictorial
representations of the Virgin Mary. Margaret Hallissy, in
discussing the "sharp differentiation between male and
female uses of space," 54 believes that while enclosure could
have been valuable and positive for both sexes, it was the
men who left their walled-in homes and communities to "have
adventures and return triumphant." 55 Wandering women were
considered immoral; and Chaucer's Wife of Bath is the
quintessential example of this as the perambulating, five-
time widow. Her antithesis, the Virgin Mary is invariably
depicted, both in literature and the visual arts, in an
enclosed space during the Annunciation scene. In a
fifteenth-century pictorial image, "Mary's modesty is
further stressed by her gesturing hand, lifted in warning
against the intruding stranger [Gabriel]. 56
Saints and sinners alike, women had to be contained.
In the Digby "Killing of the Children," the mothers of the
babies being slaughtered by Herod and his soldiers rebel,
beating the infanticides with their distaffs. Not
54 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 96.
55 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 96.
56 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 96.
surprisingly, the disorderly women are quelled and forced
to return to their domiciles. Both Digby plays succeed in
"rehabilitating" women and returning them to their domestic
spheres. In the Wakefield Noah play, a wife once more
rebels against her enclosure. In this case, Noah's wife is
depicted as a shrew as she continues to work on her
spinning wheel while refusing to enter the ark. 57 At last
Noah's wife, like the animals that preceded her, is whipped
and herded into the ark by Noah, 58 one of God's handfuls of
righteous diluvian survivors.
As demonstrated above with the visual image of the
Virgin Mary, perhaps even more can be learned about the
representation of the medieval woman by applying some of
the general principles of the visual composition of the
Middle Ages to its drama. Pamela Sheingorn believes one
Interestingly, both needlework and domestic containment are constant
themes in the various early modern discourses, most specifically the
male-authored conduct books for women. In fact, one book containing
needlework patterns was written by a man. Suzanne W. Hull discusses
this phenomenon in Chaste, Silent & Obedient (San Marino: Huntington
Library, 1982) . See also Joan Larsen Klein, Daughters, Wives, and
Widows: Writings by Men about Women and Marriage in England, 1500-1640
(Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1992). Edmund Tilney, in The Flower of
Friendship (London, 1568), writes that a wife is "not to sit alwayes
ydle;" she must occupy herself with her household duties "even in
thinges of least importaunce, " keeping busy "as with hir needle, and
rocke [needlework and spinning]" (137).
1 The concept of treating a wife like a domesticated beast is a theme
that extends itself into early modern conduct books. William Whately,
in A Bride-Bush (London, 1617), writes, "Wee prouender an horse as well
as whip and spurre him, else the best would tyre: and the wife must bee
animated to good things, and not onely withdrawne from euill" (35) .
can gain an understanding of how these principles might
have governed the medieval stage picture presented to its
audience by deploying them in a study of that period's
drama. While artistic images changed during the period 500
to 1500, these were not large-scale alterations; and this
period was governed by an "umbrella convention" that
utilized form to communicate content not only for the
artist but also for the dramatist. As a result, medieval
artists and playwrights employed similar visual conventions
to communicate a message to the viewer. 59 What is key here
is that, like early modern drama, its medieval counterpart
relied on theatrical iconography and convention to
communicate a message. While histrionic representations
are not genuine depictions of "real-life" persons, they do
provide information about the cultural codes from which a
playwright drew. Through their own conventions, dramas and
portraits suggest something about their society's dominant
ideology and the subjects it has interpellated.
From her study of gestures associated with the elbow
from the late fifteenth to seventeenth centuries in
59 Pamela Sheingorn, "The Visual Language of Drama," in Contexts for
Early English Drama, ed. Marianne G. Briscoe and John C. Coldewey
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 173-191. While Sheingorn' s emphasis is
on size and proximity of characters, her study does point to the
importance of artistic convention and how that tradition can be used to
read a period's drama.
Renaissance portraiture, Joaneath Spicer believes she is
able to ascertain something of the subject's degree of
political power. Portraits, she argues, draw from a code
of conduct deployed in everyday life. Just as the early
modern playwright and actor used gesture to communicate a
message to the audience, so did the portrait artist. Like
the painter, the playwright relied on certain conventions
that have been gathered and "distilled" from daily
experience and which convey an unspoken meaning to the
viewer. 60 Gestures, Spicer writes, "will usually represent
a distillation of generally accepted societal codes which
rise out of collective experience — otherwise they wouldn't
be recognized — and which convey an impression which the
sitter is content to give off, seen through the prism of
the individual artist's aesthetic sensibilities." 61 In her
study of western European art, Spicer notices that certain
body posturing, enhanced by an arm akimbo, is the language
of self-possession especially when other figures in the
same painting are utilizing subordinate body language.
This language of self-possession asserts a sense of
territoriality as well as physical and social authority.
60 Joaneath Spicer, "The Renaissance Elbow" in A Cultural History of
Gesture, ed. Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg (Ithaca: Cornell UP) 84-
Spicer, "The Renaissance Elbow," 85.
From the many portraits Spicer has investigated, almost all
of the men she found posing with the "Renaissance elbow"
were either socially and/or militaristically powerful.
While she has found portraits of Queen Elizabeth I with her
arm akimbo, this is, of course, the exception and was not
considered an "appropriate gesture for middle-class women
of good standing." 62
The notion of a woman comporting her body with
restraint to avoid "speaking" power through body language
is evident in early modern portraiture much as it is in
conduct books for women. Marriage portraits seem to bear
this out where masculine posturing expresses dominance and
possession, e.g., the husband's arm resting atop his wife's
shoulder, and feminine gesturology signals passive
obedience, e.g., the wife's eyes averted from the viewer.
Spicer wonders whether some of the work she has
interrogated shows the purposeful inscription of a bodily
comportment that suggests an anxiety on the part of the
dominant in regard to their retention of their power.
Similarly, I wonder if the signs of early modern English
women becoming more assertive bred an anxiety in those
holding power, urging them to write conduct books and
dramas that represented women employing a passive bodily
62 Spicer, "The Renaissance Elbow," 100.
comportment, a comportment that reinscribes their bodies as
In early modern drama, much of what appeared in a
performance was informed by theatrical convention that
presupposed a tacit and sometimes unconscious agreement
among the playwright, the actors, and the audience.
Gesture was, therefore, a significant constituent of the
methodology that communicated meaning between the
performers and the spectators. Gestures, both on the
boards and off, helped establish one's position in the
social hierarchy and were as traditional as sartorial
Alan C. Dessen points out that a modern-day audience,
whether at a live performance or in a movie theater, also
abides by certain conventions. Often, spectators see only
a portion of a scene, yet they accept the fact that the
action has begun earlier and will continue in their
absence. However, because twentieth-century spectators are
accustomed to a "realistic" approach to representation,
they attempt to employ a sense of verisimilitude when
reading or observing Elizabethan dramas. 63 David Bevington
says that today's audience members may have difficulty
Alan C. Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions and Modern Interpreters
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984) 11.
"seeing" the way Shakespeare's spectators saw because
modern eyes are trained for viewing films in which
characters are surrounded by a "fully supplied landscape."'
Dessen argues that a Shakespearean audience accepted
conventions that a twentieth-century audience would
consider "odd, illogical, or intrusive." 65 Both Bevington
and Dessen believe that if readers can begin to understand
these earlier conventions regarding the performance text,
they will be able to appreciate more fully the literary
text. Additionally, they will gain some insight into what
Keir Elam terms the "performer-audience transaction" 66 that
occurred in the early modern theater. For example, the
physical constraints of a nascent commercialized theater
required the audience to use their imagination a good deal
regarding the staging of scenes. Because theatrical
companies had a limited number of actors and no elaborate
scenery, a battle scene, for instance, was synecdochically
represented by a handful of soldiers. Or two actors might
be embroiled in combat with wooden swords. Costumes, sound
effects, dialogue, hand props, and appropriate acting
64 David Bevington, Action is Eloquence (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984) 7.
Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 11.
Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (New York: Routledqe
helped the audience imagine what could not be portrayed
"realistically" on an open stage with limited personnel. 67
Since only scanty accounts of audience response and
limited pictorial evidence of Elizabethan productions
remain, one must rely on evidence within the plays when
examining stage conventions. Yet the surviving stage
directions are often "murky, " and it appears that the actor
was left to decide how he would gesture or move about the
platform to communicate meaning to the spectator. What
Dessen does conclude is that actors produced a "theatrical
shorthand," using "a few clear signals" to briefly and
concisely convey to the spectator a previous or continuing
off-stage action. 68 Stage directions from extant texts
indicate that a boy actor portraying a distraught woman,
entered the stage with his/her hair loose and disheveled,
visually signaling the audience about the character's
madness, shame, or grief. If an actor came on stage
wearing boots or riding apparel, the audience knew the
characters had recently completed, or were about to embark
on, a journey. Actors appearing "unready," "trussing"
themselves up, or wearing nightshirts or nightcaps, quickly
Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 33.
68 Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 34
apprised the spectator that it was nighttime or early
morning. A similar effect could be achieved with the
carrying of candles or torches. 69
While all of this information helps both Dessen and
Bevington establish the importance of theatrical
conventions, it does so without addressing the ways in
which gesture genders a performer's or character's body.
Yet, by examining a few examples, it becomes evident that
the containment of a woman's body is directly linked to the
appropriateness of her behavior. Anything out of place on
a woman's body, whether it be her hair, clothing, speech,
or gestures, connoted a woman out of her place, a concept
clearly articulated in the conduct books authored by men
and addressed to women. Gesture becomes a language that
helps one understand the way in which the early modern
woman was positioned within her society through her
representation on stage and in conduct books.
Gestures can accompany speech, giving the
interlocutor's utterance more emphasis; and they can be
just as effective alone. Indeed, the absence of gesture
can indicate a range of emotions as well, from humility to
nonchalance to disinterest. Bodily comportment, including
69 Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 52,
facial expressions, establishes social differentiation,
separating persons according to race, ethnicity, social
position, occupation, and gender. In short, gesture is an
indispensable complement to any language. 70 For Erasmus, an
adolescent boy could demonstrate his cultivated mind
through his masculine posturing and adherence to a specific
gestural code. He could, as well, appear effeminate should
he, for example, walk with a mincing gait. 71
Gesture as an outward manifestation of one's inward
will became an increasingly important signifier throughout
the reigns of Elizabeth and James. Bodily comportment
reflected a woman's socio-economic position insofar as her
averted glances, blushes, unfurrowed brows, and non-
threatening posture in general demonstrated her non-
authoritative social status and her economic dependence
upon and passive obedience to her spouse, father, or other
male guardian. Gestures, however trivial they may seem,
are a self-identif icatory mechanism that implies
fundamental differences in social position and, therefore,
in degree of power or powerlessness . Even a blush carries
70 Keith Thomas, introduction, A Cultural History of Gesture, ed. Jan
Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991) 1-14.
71 Desiderius Erasmus, "On Good Manners for Boys" in the Collected Works
of Erasmus, trans. Brian McGregor, ed. J. K. Sowards, Vol. 25 (Toronto:
U of Toronto P, 1985) .
with it a passive bodily comportment — head down, arms close
to or crossed in front of the body, legs together or
crossed—signifying a willing subjection. In fact, a blush
does not necessarily need to appear on a woman's cheek to
be read as such. A blush is less a coloration of the
cheeks and more a passive bodily comportment.
During the Early Modern Period, noblemen and
aristocratic youths were instructed in refining their
gestures to demonstrate their superior rank and authority,
to mime a language of self-possession and social power.
Women were admonished to refine their bodily movements as
well, but with the opposite results. A woman was
conditioned to occupy less physical space and to
communicate with few words, if any. One conduct book says
what is spoken of Maids, may be
properly applyed by an vsefull
consequence to all women: They should
be seene, and not heard: A Travueller
sets himselfe best out by discourse,
whereas their [women's] best setting
out is silence. 72
Paradoxically, even the highly visible gestures a woman was
to perform, helped to further inscribe not only a lack of
power but also an invisibility onto her body. In essence,
- Richard Brathwait, The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631) 41.
a woman was to wear her soul, not on her sleeve, but on her
entire body. From the averted glance of her eye to the
abbreviated length of her gait, a woman was to silently
demonstrate her role as "shamefast" virgin, dutiful wife,
or eternally-mourning widow. As the physically and morally
weaker sex, she was to comport herself with restraint and
without the slightest suggestion of boldness, pride, or
self-possession. Not only was a woman enclosed by the
physical structure of her domicile, she was also
circumscribed by her own feminine gesturology.
I will be focusing on the early modern woman in
England, how conduct books constructed the masculine ideal
of that woman, and, in later chapters, how that ideal was
further inscribed in the drama of that period through the
use of boy actors whose "feminized" comportment drew the
audience's attention to a woman character's inferiorized
body and subordinated social position. In regard to
conduct books, Ian Maclean believes that two forces may
have been bringing about a change in society:
the modification in social class
divisions which brings greater mobility
between classes and promotes the
emergence of a social group of rich,
leisured women below the level of court
and the reflection of that change in
courtesy books of the Renaissance,
suggesting the development of social
life in this new class and its theory
and expectations of social behaviour. 73
I refer to and focus on the woman of the middle classes, or
what Maclean labels "this new class." I believe one of the
main purposes of conduct books was to create a woman who
would become the backbone of an economic system that,
ironically, would make wives more economically dependent on
their husbands. 74 At the same time, a woman's labor
supported her husband' s advancement within a society that
was beginning to allow money, not kinship, to achieve one's
social position. Conduct books attest to this new marital
And if it be true. ..that friendshippe
maketh one heart of two: much more
truly and effectually, ought wedlocke
to do the same, which farre passeth all
manner, both friendship and kindred. 75
73 Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman, 88.
74 Susan Dwyer Amussen, in "Gender, Family and Social Order," in Order
and Disorder in Early Modern England, ed. Anthony Fletcher and John
Stevenson (New York: Cambridge UP, 1985) 196-217, writes "wives played
a significant role in the family economies of early modern England. In
the kitchen, dairy and brew-house they supervised production; they sold
their own cheese, ale and eggs in the market, where they purchased
other necessaries for their families" (203). See also Amussen' s An
Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England. Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, 1988.
75 Robert Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement
(London, 1598) 216.
The women characters in the contemporary drama, while
ranging from royalty to peasantry, were none the less
stereotyped by their speech, behavior, and, I will argue,
their gestures. When I speak of a social position, I
discuss it with the belief that it was framed within a
masculine hierarchy in which women rarely achieved an
individual status, almost never being recognized for their
own achievements. As one conduct book writer succinctly
puts it, "For Shee is Hee." 76
Almost exclusively, women were recognized according to
their husband's place in society. 77 If a woman married
beneath her station, she was reduced to her husband's rank.
If she married a man of higher social ranking, she was
elevated in society's eyes. A man's social position could
be elevated, too, through marriage; however, if he married
someone beneath him, he never lost his more elevated
position within the hierarchy. As one conduct books says,
For the wife enioyeth the priuiledges
of her husband, and is graced by his
honor and estimation amongst men. His
Nobilitie maketh her noble, though
otherwise shee is base and meane; as
contrariwise, his basenesse and low
degree, causeth her, though shee bee by
Richard Brathwaite, The Good Wife (London, 1619) n. pag.
7 Keith Wrightson, in English Society 1580-1680 (New Brunswick, NJ:
Rutgers UP, 1982) concludes, after studying an early modern text that
formulated the "degrees" of people, the "status of women and children
was assumed to follow that of their husbands and fathers..." (21) .
birth noble and honorable, to bee by
estate base and meane. 78
Ruth Kelso, in her quest for the Renaissance lady,
concludes that such a person never existed. Although many
texts were written for and about this lady, beyond the
theoretical treatises and
the dedications to ladies, duchesses,
or queens, the contents, it is scarcely
an exaggeration to affirm, apply to the
whole sex rather than to any favored
section of it. The lady, shall we
venture to say, turns out to be merely
a wife. 79
By gendering household responsibilities and enclosing a
wife within her home, a woman was kept in a private world
that disallowed her participation in the religious,
political, economic, and educational sectors of the public
world. 80 As one conduct book says, a woman could leave her
home for four reasons:
First, to come to holy meetings,
according to the dutie of godlinesse.
78 William Perkins, Christian Oeconomie: or, A Short Survey of the Right
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Familie, According to the Scriptures
(London, 1609) 131.
79 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana: U of
Illinois P, 1956) 1. While Kelso's study focuses on texts written by
Italian, French, English and other European writers, I would have to
agree with her conclusion as it pertains to the English woman in the
early modern period.
80 Joan Kelly, "The Social Relation of the Sexes" and "Did Women Have a
Renaissance," Women, History, and Theory (Chicago: U of Chicago P,
1984) 1-50. Kelly discusses the crucial importance for women of the
separation of the public and private spheres and how that bifurcation
disallowed women to experience a "renaissance."
The second, to visit such as stand in
need, as the dutie of loue and charitie
doo require. The third, for employment
& prouision in household affaires
committed to her charge. And lastly,
with her husband, when hee shall
requite her. 81
While she most likely left her home frequently to perform
such tasks, a woman was barred from any significant role in
the formulation of the culture in which she existed,
dislocated as she was from economic activity and subjugated
to household work without remuneration.
This separation and enclosure of the feminine body
becomes more deeply inscribed in early modern conduct
books, in general, and through the gestures a woman was
directed to perform, in particular. In this regard, the
work of Sandra Lee Bartky, who discusses the implications
of feminine bodily comportment within a twentieth-century
milieu, 82 is valuable for my own work. Bartky believes that
American women, through stereotyping, cultural domination,
and sexual objectif ication-three "special modes of psychic
alienation" 83 -deliver "terrible messages of inferiority" 84 to
!1 Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement, 225.
Sandra Lee Bartky, Femininity and Domination (New York: Routledge,
83 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 23.
84 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 23.
women, psychologically oppressing them, weighing them down
with their own burden of a depreciated self, and,
therefore, making them their own oppressors. Conduct books
for the early modern woman, as I will explain in more
detail below, establish a woman's "natural" inferiority, an
inferiority that has existed since the beginning of time,
most particularly the time of the Garden of Eden.
According to Bartky:
Even when economic and political
obstacles on the path to autonomy are
removed, a depreciated alter ago still
blocks the way. It is hard enough for
me to determine what sort of person I
am or ought to try to become without
being shadowed by an alternate self, a
truncated and inferior self that I
have, in some sense, been doomed to be
all the time. 85
Early modern conduct books declared this "truncated and
inferior self" to women and inculcated them with household
skills whose primary purpose was to increase her husband's
economic security while at the same time immure her inside
the home and outside of a "male supremicist culture." 86 As
Bartky states, "However degraded or distorted an image of
ourselves we see reflected in the patriarchal culture, the
Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 24.
86 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 25.
culture of our men is still our culture." 87 This was even
truer for the early modern woman who, because of her
stereotypical image as an inferior creature, had almost no
say in any aspect of her culture. Any talents she may have
acquired were hidden behind the door of her domicile and
dimmed in the shadow of "woman's work."
This devaluation of a woman's labor further alienates
a woman from herself and her body. Bartky writes, "Since
labor is the most characteristic human life activity, to be
alienated from one's own labor is to be estranged from
oneself." 88 Moreover, this estranged body was objectified,
not as the sex object of the twentieth century, but as the
"female breeder" 89 of the early modern period. One conduct
book writer explains, "The male is man of superior sexe,
fit for procreation. The female is woman of an inferior
sexe, fit to conceive and beare children." 90 The role of
the always-deficient was not only internalized by the early
modern woman, but it was also externalized through her
87 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 25.
88 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 32.
Bartky, in Femininity and Domination, sees this as one of many female
stereotypes she discusses.
3 William Perkins, Christian Economy or a Short Survey of the Right
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Family According to the Scriptures
(London, 1609) 24.
bodily comportment, a comportment clearly delineated for
her in the pages of the conduct manuals. Bartky writes,
There are significant gender
differences in gesture, posture,
movement, and general bodily
comportment: Women are far more
restricted than men in their manner of
movement and in their lived
Again, this was all the more the case for the early modern
woman, as I will show below when I begin to discuss
specific conduct books and the regimens within which they
placed women. This restriction of movement began during
childhood. Lawrence Stone writes that after the
"swaddling" period, boys' bodies were allowed to be free
girls were encased in bodices and
corsets reinforced with iron and
whalebone to ensure that their bodies
were moulded to the prevailing adult
fashion. Dressed in miniature adult
clothes, they were expected to conform
to the ideal adult feminine shape and
carriage, and in particular to maintain
an upright posture and to walk slowly
and gracefully. 92
Stone goes on to discuss how these restrictive
undergarments caused "distortion or displacement of the
91 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 67.
Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 116.
organs, and sometimes even death." 93 He cites an example of
a young, seventeenth-century girl whose iron bodice stunted
the growth of her lungs, broke two of her ribs, and
obviously caused her a great deal of pain. Her severe
bodily enclosure caused her death at the age of two. 94
Carroll Camden describes the attire that an
"Elizabethan lady" would put on when dressing for "an
outing or an entertainment." 95 She would begin with either
a heavily embroidered or lace-trimmed and a petticoat. A
bodice, or corset, went over the smock and was stiffened
with whale-bone or wooden stays called "busks." Some busks
were constructed completely of iron, as was the case with
the two-year-old child discussed above. The bodice was
tied in place with "busk-points" or laces. These corsets
or busks were meant to flatten a woman's stomach and
abdomen as well as hold her breasts high. Once the corset
was in place, a woman slipped a farthingale beneath her
petticoat, a "device used to hold out the skirts of
succeeding garments." 96 A farthingale, like a busk, was
93 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 116.
94 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 116.
3 Carroll Camden, The Elizabethan Woman (Houston: Elsevier, 1952) 219.
For Camden, an Elizabethan lady is a gentlewoman or the wife of a
merchant, or a woman of the upper class and middle clas
96 Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, 220,
stiffened with various different materials such as
whalebone or wood. The point of this device was to make a
woman's waist look small, " as if the corset hadn't already
achieved this. Over this underclothing, a woman wore a
kirtle or two-piece dress, beneath which she placed a
stomacher and forepart, both accessories that filled the
opened work in the top and bottom portions of the kirtle,
respectively. A gown, worn open in the front, was placed
over the kirtle. Detachable sleeves were sometimes given
shape on a "body of wire" and were often elaborately
decorated. Finally, a cloak could be worn over the gown or
instead of it. Certainly, these many layers of clothing
had a pragmatic purpose: to keep a woman's body warm.
However, it also served to further enclose that body,
circumscribing it with a farthingale. Furthermore, the
message was that a woman's body was defective and needed to
be reconstructed, 98 improved upon, by minimizing the waist,
maximizing the hips and buttocks, and lifting up the
breasts. It must have been difficult for a woman dressed
like this to move about, let alone to be able to sit
97 Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, 220-21.
3 While men, too, "reconstructed" their bodies with enhancements in
their codpieces, for example, these fashion "accessories" did not
restrict their movements and cause them the physical discomfort of a
comfortably. It would seem that an early modern woman's
mobility and carriage were inflected by her cumbersome and
Bartky says that women seem to be surrounded by an
invisible space beyond which they are hesitant to move.
This invisible space is evidenced in conduct book
illustrations depicting women seated demurely or standing,
legs together, hands folded on laps or arms by sides.
Observing twentieth-century women, Bartky comments,
"Woman's body language speaks eloquently, though silently,
of her subordinate status in a hierarchy of gender." 99 The
feminine gesturology early modern conduct books prescribe
for women creates a comparable yoke between a woman's
inferior social status and her minimalized bodily
movements. The body of the early modern woman bears the
unmistakable signs of a psychological oppression that
Bartky observes inscribed on the twentieth-century female
body. As Catherine Belsey points out,
Culture exists, in a word, as meanings.
But the cultural meanings of man and
woman, experienced at the level of
consciousness, have also been lived
precisely as material practices; not
only as rape and violence, but as the
slower, more tedious and more insidious
oppression of women's bodies by regimes
Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 74
of beauty, by corsetry and crippling
footwear, by marital availability,
domestic labour and continual
As conduct books become more and more methodological in
their approach, a woman's body is more deeply restrained
with rigid injunctions to control itself through precise
gestures and an economy of movement.
Catherine Belsey, "A Future for Materialist Feminist Criticism?" in
The Matter of Differnece: Materialist Feminist Criticism of
Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991)
WEAK HANDS AND FEEBLE KNEES
As the new ideal woman 1 was being fashioned and
enclosed in her domicile, people, for the first time since
the establishment of the manorial system, were dislodged
from their "place" in the social hierarchy, creating an
historical space crucial in regard to the social position
of women. This space may have afforded women a voice that
caused a male anxiety reflected in a variety of early
modern writings, most particularly in conduct books for
women. During the latter half of the sixteenth and first
quarter of the seventeenth centuries, these texts, for the
most part, were written by male religious moralists who
1 I suggest the conduct book writers were addressing women below the
aristocratic class, most specifically of the middle classes. This is
in keeping with Lawrence Stone's belief, in The Family, Sex and
Marriage in England 1500-1800, Abridged Edition (New York: Harper,
1979), that the patriarchy was being positively reinforced at this
level of society. He makes the disclaimer: "It cannot be proved
conclusively that in reality the powers of fathers over children and of
husbands over wives in the upper and middle ranks most exposed to this
propaganda became greater than they had been in the middle ages... "
(109). However, he says this "seems a plausible hypothesis, given the
fact that patriarchy for its effective exercise depends not so much on
raw power or legal authority, as on a recognition by all concerned of
its legitimacy, allowed by ancient tradition, moral theology and
political theory" (109). Ruth Kelso, on the other hand, in Chapter 1
of Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana: U of Illinois P,
1956), argues that knowing the addressee of the conduct book is a moot
point since women were in a sense "classless." No matter what their
social rank appeared to be, they were always beneath the authority of
their husbands or some other male guardian.
made it "naturally" evident that women — no matter what
their class status — were expected to marry and to be
contained by both the emerging nuclear family ideology and
its concomitant physical structure, the "home." This new
family unit was supported by both the Church and the State. 2
As a microcosm within the macrocosmic Chain of Being, a
long-standing religious hierarchy was reinforced: just as
God was the head of the Church and its final authority, so,
too, was the husband the head of the family, having the
final say in all matters. As one conduct book puts it:
Ye Wiues loue your Husbands,
And obedient bee,
For they are your heads,
And aboue in degree. 3
The State structure was supported by and reflected in
the nuclear family as well. Here, the husband was the
ultimate ruler over his "castle," just as the monarch was
2 Susan D. Amussen, in "Gender, Family and the Social Order, 1560-1725,'
in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, eds . Anthony Fletcher
and John Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985) 196-217, writes that
both state and religious discourse draw an analogy between the well-
governed family and a well-ordered society. However, ecclesiastical
officials and state heads did not necessarily agree on the particulars
of that analogy in regard to who was responsible for the "correction"
of a wayward wife. The Puritan writers of conduct books, in
particular, created a rather ambiguous position for the early modern
wife: a woman who was considered her husband's equally-yoked partner
yet a wife who was under her husband's ultimate authority. Amussen
shows evidence of incidents of disorderly wives who obviously did not
adhere to conduct book injunctions. However, when one looks at the
divorce, property, and common laws of early modern England, one can
only conclude that a woman was far from her husband's equal.
Francis Seager, The Schoole of Vertue (London, 1582), n.
the supreme ruler of the State. The family, according to
one conduct book writer, "is a naturall and simple Societie
of certaine persons, hauing mutuall relation one to
another, vnder the priuate gouernement of one." 4 This
second analogy, however, was a bit strained, especially
when Mary and Elizabeth served consecutively as English
monarchs. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for such an
outpouring of conduct books which comprise a large body of
texts written by men between 1475 and 1640, eighty-five
percent of which were published after 1570. 5 The acute
gender differentiation of the sixteenth century, Ruth Kelso
suggests, may be a result of the renewed interest in the
Renaissance of ancient thought. 6 Along with a return to the
4 William Perkins, Christian Economy or a Short Survey of the Right
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Family According to the Scriptures
(London, 1609) 2.
5 Suzanne W. Hull, in Chaste, Silent & Obedient (San Marino: Huntington
Library, 1982), has compiled a list of texts written to a new English
early modern female readership. She believes that this phenomenon
could suggest an increasing literacy rate among Elizabethan and Stuart
women. Karen Newman, in Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance
Drama (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991), believes these texts could be an
attempt to more deeply inscribe the family ideology on a woman's body
as the result of women transgressing the established codes of
appropriate feminine behavior, witnessed in historical records. Nancy
Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, in their collection of essays The
Ideology of Conduct (London: Methuen, 1987), argue for a close
relationship between the codification of feminine comportment in
women's conduct books and the endeavor of the middle ranks of society
to achieve economic power.
5 I will argue below that this renewed interest in classical literature
contributed to the success of the all-male casts in England.
Classics was an increased interest on the part of women in
literature and learning. Kelso writes:
It was a disturbing phenomenon, this
rising interest of women in the world
of books and their demand for
education, certain to increase [male]
suspicion and antagonism. It may well
be suspected that the. ..flood of advice
to wives on marriage, modeled on St.
Paul's pattern, rose in the renaissance
in part from alarm that women were
breaking out of bounds and needed to be
kept or set back in their place. 7
In general, all the early modern conduct books clearly
establish that wives are subject to their husbands'
authority and are to love their spouses out of obedience,
not necessarily out of love. They are to maintain the
household and be contained by it, are to forbear their
husbands' shortcomings, and are to comport themselves in a
manner that signifies "weak hands and feeble knees is a
woman." 8 Women, in other words, needed to be physically and
ideologically positioned beneath their husbands, fathers,
or male guardians, no matter what their class standing.
Ruth Kelso contends that women were "classless" insofar as
they were always considered second class citizens, no
7 Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance, 10.
8 This quote is derived from Thomas Becon's The Catachism, published in
1844 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP) 343, but originally part of his Workes
written between 1560-1564.
matter what their actual class standing was. 9 Lawrence
Stone contends that the household became a "most valuable
institution for social control at the village level." 1 "
Women were ideally to remain enclosed inside their homes,
performing all manner of household maintenance and
nurturing services for which they received no compensation
and which left them homebound as well as socially immobile.
Whether "classless" in Kelso's sense or classed as a
gender, women were exploited as a result of their socio-
economic position. If the conduct books are a glimpse into
real life, then women left their homes only to attend
church, visit a sick neighbor, or partake in a social
function, often accompanied by male escorts.
Since men were more literate 11 than women up until and,
for the most part, including the early modern period, men
wrote the conduct books that not only instructed women in
bodily comportment but also "taught" them how to cook, do
9 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance.
10 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 28.
Stone, in The Family, Sex and Marriage, says that within the general
population "only one woman in three could even sign her name in a
marriage register in 1754, which was not much more than half the
proportion of men, and there is every reason to suppose that the
proportion was if anything worse in the seventeenth century. Women at
all levels of society were an educationally deprived group compared
with men" (144). Even among artistocratic circles, the notion of a
woman receiving a learned education, as espoused in Castiglione' s The
Courtier, survived approximately forty years [1520-1560] .
needlework, deliver babies, care for the sick, and even
nurse their children. I put quotation marks around
"taught" because I strongly suspect men often acquired
these skills by observing women, perhaps their own wives
and mothers. Since the majority of the female population
was illiterate, women often could only pass their various
skills onto other women by word of mouth. Literate men,
therefore, were able to appropriate these skills and write
them as their own in the form of instructions to women,
thereby assuming a position of power and authority.
Conduct books also instructed women on how to dress
and "beautify" themselves, when it was appropriate to leave
their domicile, how to behave in mixed company, when and
what to speak, and how to engage in appropriate amusements.
This authority was further inscribed through marginal
glosses and intertexual references to scripture, classical
texts, and medieval medical discourses, all written by men.
One author admits that he received a recipe from a
"countrie gentlewoman whome I could name [although he does
not], which venteth great store of sugar cakes made of this
composition." 12 Plat finds fault with this recipe, however,
12 Sir Hugh Plat, Delights for Ladies (London, 1608) Item B5 ,
since it "tasteth too much of the sugar, and too little of
the almonds" 13 and recites his new and improved recipe.
In spite of the apparently authoritative stance of men
in general and husbands in particular, marriage was often
referred to as a place where men will live a miserable
existence. In a tongue-in-cheek text by Thomas Heywood,
the author retells a poem allegedly written by a man in
great hesitation over whether or not to marry. The poem
finally concludes that there is too much risk involved:
No marriage then, lie keep my single state,
Since on a wife so many dangers wait.
But if heaven will that I a Consort have,
grant me one that's pious, wise, and grave. 14
The plethora of anti-marriage doggerals and jest books
depicting the hen-pecked husband did not dissuade men from
marrying; a wife was a "necessary evil." This evil,
according to some authors, placed men under constant
persecution. Richard Brathwaite's Aar't Asleepe Husband?
A Boulster Lecture (1640) and Thomas Heywood' s A Curtaine
Lecture (1637) are based on the assumption that women never
cease talking and, therefore, deny their husbands sleep.
The frontispiece of Brathwaite's text depicts a wife
sitting up in bed, talking to her beleaguered and sleep-
13 Plat, Item B5 .
14 Thomas Heywood, A Curtaine Lecture (London, 1637) 7!
deprived husband. These texts are, in a sense, facetious
conduct books, perhaps printed not only to give men a few
laughs but also to ridicule women into mending their ways.
Some texts cannot definitively be categorized as
conduct books simply because they masked themselves as
"defenses of women, " and were actually exercises in logical
argumentation. More importantly, though, they served as an
ideological site from which to prescribe appropriate
feminine behavior for the early modern woman of the middle
classes. Sir Thomas Elyot, in his The Defence of Good
Women (1540), stages an argumentative dialogue between the
fictional characters Caninius, an anti-feminist, and
Candidus, a supporter of women, to counter a seemingly
perpetual antifeminist discourse rooted in both biblical
and classical writings. The conversation begins with
Caninius alleging that his compatriot is blinded by love
and, therefore, cannot see the treachery and falsehood that
inheres in all women. Candidus counters this assertion by
saying that, through his reading and life's experience, he
has come to a contrary conclusion. He cites the threadbare
examples of virtuous mythical and historical women, such as
Penelope, who was never "by dede word nor countinance in
hir chaste purpose unconstant . " 15 He declares the
"Constance of ladies and damselles" by retelling the
stories of wives who either waited patiently for their
husbands to return home from their adventures, followed
them to the grave, or lived in "sorowe contynuall more
paynefulle than deathe"^ after being widowed. Caninius,
citing Aristotle, posits that women are "unperfit"
creatures, never content and "alwaie unconstant...." 17 They
are, he says,
weaker than men, and have their fleshe
softer, lesse heare on their visages,
and their voice sharper, and as I have
redde, they have in some partes of
their bodies, their boones fewer. 18
This weakness, Caninius believes, resides in their souls as
well. After critiquing body and soul, this detractor of
women remonstrates the female mind:
And the witte, that they have, is not
substanciall but apish: neuer
florishyng but in ungraciousnesse, or
in trimmying themselues with pratie
deuises, or excusying their faultes
with unstudied answeres.... 19
15 Sir Thomas Elyot, The Defense of Good Women (1540) n. pag.
16 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.
17 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.
18 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.
19 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.
Because inconstancy is women's "most imperfection, " in them
"witte littell preuaileth. " 20 At the conclusion of this
dialectic, Candidus tells Caninius that he has invited
Zenobia to dinner. She is proficient in Greek, Latin, and
Egyptian, teaches her children, and is an eloquent writer
of stories. Zenobia' s behavior, Candidus avers, will shame
his friend into the recanting of his misogyny. When
Zenobia arrives, she immediately voices her concern that
"to be out of [her] owne house at this tyme of the nyghte" 21
might compromise her sterling reputation. After Candidus
assures her that her honor will not be besmirched, Zenobia
tells Caninius that she has pursued her studies to effect a
more virtuous, constant, and temperate wife and now-widow,
mother, and ruler of her deceased husband's kingdom.
Because of her own docility, Zenobia claims that her
subjects— and even her enemies— followed her example and
became submissive as Zenobia ruled the kingdom in her
deceased husband's stead. This treatise, like the conduct
books that will follow, establishes what would become the
ideal wife of the middle classes: chaste, silent, and
20 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.
21 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.
obedient. 22 This newly-fashioned woman would be unlike her
aristocratic counterpart; she would not be a witty
conversationalist, robed in silks and velvets, whose role
was to look beautiful and alluring while entertaining her
equally witty interlocutors.
This earlier female exemplum is found in Book Three of
Baldesar Castiglione ' s The Book of the Courtier, published
in Venice in 1528 and translated into English by Sir Thomas
Hoby in 1561. The text consists of a rhetorical game in
which a coterie of the wealthy, witty, and educated fashion
the perfect "courtier that never was, nor perhaps ever
could be." 23 Once he is designed, the perfect court lady
follows, rather like an Eve following an Adam. The court
lady is required to be in every way like the male courtier,
"insofar as her frailty allows." 24 Signor Magnifico, the
"defender of women" amongst these roman a clef characters,
compares himself to Pygmalion and insists that once he has
fashioned this lady to his "own liking," he will "take her
22 I draw this description from Suzanne W. Hull whose thorough
compilation of conduct books for early modern women is found in her
Chaste, Silent, and Obedient.
23 Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans, and intro.
George Bull (London: Penguin, 1967) 202.
24 For a full discussion of the perfect female courtier, see Chapter 3
of The Courtier.
for [his] own." 25 At the outset, the Magnifico declares
that "above all, I hold that a woman should in no way
resemble a man as regards her ways, manners, words,
gestures and bearing." 26 Many of the qualities conscripted
by the Magnifico become requirements of the English early
modern woman and are set down in the conduct books. In
general, the courtly lady must be:
more circumspect [than her male
counterpart] and at greater pains to
avoid giving an excuse for someone to
speak ill of her; she should not only
be beyond reproach but also beyond even
suspicion, for a woman lacks a man's
resources when it comes to defending
However, Signor Magnifico, unlike the male authors of
English conduct books, believes that "much is lacking to a
woman who lacks beauty." 28 Moreover, The Courtier ' s lady
must be proficient in entertaining all manner of man:
I say that the Lady who is at Court
should properly have, before all else,
a certain pleasing affability whereby
she will know how to entertain
graciously every kind of man with
charming and honest conversation,
suited to the time and the place and
25 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211.
26 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211.
27 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211.
28 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211.
the rank of the person with whom she is
These requisites are the antithesis of the English conduct
books in which typically women are instructed to "use few
words, and those low and milde" 30 when they are in their
husbands' presence and, indeed, in the presence of any man.
While a wife is to manage her household and family, the
Magnifico says that "this [is] not to be her chief
occupation." 31 As the sixteenth century draws to an end,
the English conduct books will opine an opposite view of
the ideal woman. The "quick and vivacious spirit" the
Magnificio desires in his lady is conspicuously lacking in
the later English treatises where a woman is divested of
her wit and imbued with domestic duties.
Edmund Tilney's The Flower of Friendship (1568) helps
comprise a large group of marriage handbooks (both English
and continental) that were adaptations of Erasmus's
humanist Conjugium, one of his colloquies on marriage.
Tilney drew on other humanist writers as well, such as Juan
29 Castiglione, The Courtier, 212, emphasis mine.
William Whately, A Bride-Bush or a Wedding Sermon (London, 1608) 42,
31 Castiglione, The Courtier, 214,
Luis Vives and Pedro di Luxan. 3 ? still following the
continental style, The Flower extends its marital advice in
the form of a narrative within a bucolic setting, peopled
by a group of well-fed and well-heeled Ladies and
Gentlemen. After a dinner seasoned with "exceeding
cheere," "pleasaunt talke," "melodie," and "sweete cheering
f the Ladies," 33 the group sits beneath a "faire Arbour" in
hat the narrator says "might be called a terrestriall
paradyse." 34 However, although Tilney's fictionalized
characters and setting closely mirror those in
Castiglione's Courtier, The Flower's instructions for
ladies do not. Castiglione and other continental writers
addressed a far more sophisticated audience, offering
advice to ladies regarding their ability to maintain a
witty conversation with their male interlocutors and their
skill to display grace and learning. 35 Tilney's agenda is
guite different. Even though the setting implies that the
Valerie Wayne, introduction, The Flower of Friendship: a Renaissance
Dialogue Contesting Marriage by Edmund Tilney, ed. Valerie Wayne
(Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992) 3.
The Flower of Friendship, 102.
34 The Flower of Friendship, 103.
3 Hull, in Chaste, Silent and Obedient, says that writers like
Castiglione, La Tour-Landry, and DuBoscq "approached the conduct and
position of women through continental eyes" (32). Castiglione, in
particular, held a more enlightened view of women and, instead of
instructing them to be silent and obedient, "emphasizes the need for
sophisticated conversational talents in women" (32) .
guests are members of the aristocracy whose women were
marked by elegant dress and eloquent speech, the
conversation that follows makes it clear that the
articulate, witty wife has been upstaged by the more
containable silent and subordinate spouse.
This trend had already begun with texts such as those
written by Heinrich Bullinger, who, like so many of his
counterparts, begins his vapid treatise by establishing the
Biblical basis for marriage. In The Christen State of
Matrimonye (1541) Wedlock is sacred, as opposed to profane;
it was "ordeyned and instituted" by God, both textually (in
the first book of the Bible) and physically (in
"paradise"). 36 William Perkins claims that "the onely rule
of ordering the Family, is the written Word of God." 37
The manner in which the first woman was "created"-and,
therefore, the materiality of her body-is crucial to her
position within the family ideology and gendered hierarchy:
The woman was taken from and out of the
syde of man and not from the erth lest
any man shulde thinke that he had
gotten his wyfe out of the myre: but to
considre that the wife is the husbandes
flesh and bone and therfore to love
her: yet was she not made of the head.
Heinrich Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony (Antwerp, 1541)
Chapter 1, n. pag. I cite the chapter here and following due to
irregular pagination. When copying the text, I use commas in place of
the slash mark found in the facsimile but maintain the same spelling.
Perkins, Christian Economy, 1.
For the husband is the heade & matter
of the wyfe. Nether was she made of
the fete (as though thou mightest
spurne her a waye from the & nothing
regarde her) but euen out of thy syde
as one that is set next unto man to be
his helpe & companyon. And as the bone
of the flesh is strong so ought the
husband to be the strength helpe and
co [m] forte of the wife. Therefore was
she also taken and created out of the
rybbe or bone and not out of the
Bullinger and his counterparts take great pains to
configure woman within the paradigm of the early modern
household. Because she is taken from the man's side, a
woman is deemed a man's "helpe & companyon." More
importantly, however, because she is not taken from a man's
head, a wife must be spatially positioned beneath her
husband's head, signifying both her physical and mental
deficiencies. Curiously, however, as Bullinger continues
forming his analogies, a logical conundrum is created. The
author claims that, since woman was not taken from the
head, she cannot possess those qualities that the head
signifies: a higher social position and a superior mental
capacity. It follows, then, that if woman was not taken
from a bone that is strong, she would be physically weak;
conversely, if she was taken from the bone, she would be
physically strong. But, here, Bullinger argues the
38 Bullinger, Chapter 1, n. pag.
opposite: because woman was "taken and created out of the
rybbe or bone and not out of the flesh," she is physically
inferior. The husband is the one who retains the bone's
strength-not the wife. In order to bestow yet another
superior attribute on man, Bullinger must reverse both his
analogy and his logic. Whatever "proofs" Bullinger or his
contemporaries deploy in their writings, the woman always
comes up "short," standing beneath the man's authority and
within marriage, the only institution deemed appropriate
Furthermore, a wife is not only married to her husband
but also to God himself: "And addeth therto that they must
esteme this obedience none otherwise then if it were she
wed unto god himself e." 39 A woman's obedience to her
husband is likened to her acquiescence to God: "It
foloweth also that the disobedie [n] ce which wives shew unto
their husbandes displeaseth god no less the[n] whan he is
resisted himself e." 40 Since a husband was often away from
the home, a woman was left with her servants and children,
not immediately accountable to a human authority figure.
Therefore, it followed that if her body was not
39 Bullinger, Chapter 17, n. pag.
40 Bullinger, Chapter 17, n. pag.
accountable, her soul would have to be. While a woman was
encouraged to practice the art of self-surveillance through
reading scripture and through prayer, the conduct books
reminded her that she, or her soul, was ultimately
answerable to God. The only equality Renaissance
theologians afforded a woman was that, she, like her male
counterpart, had a soul, subject to God's grace. However,
she must not forget that her parity was only in Heaven, not
here on earth. Lest she disobey, she was reminded that
hellfire and damnation loomed large, along with her
husband's authority. Although a woman was under the gaze
of her male authority figure only when he was at home, she
was never without the discreet and continuous Holy Gaze
that carried severe and eternal censure.
Invariably, the conduct book writers rehearse the same
theme: the female reader is exhorted to remain obedient
within her home and to maintain the very domestic sphere
meant to circumscribe her, body and soul:
The chiefest way for a woman to
preserve and maintaine this good fame,
is to be resident in hir owne house.
For an honest woman in sobernes, keping
well hir house, gayneth thereby great
reputation, and if she be evill, it
driveth away many evil occasions, and
stoppeth the mouthes of people. 41
41 Edmund Tilney, The Flower of Friendship (London, 1568) 136.
Her physical and moral weakness established, a woman was
instructed how to comport this inferiorized body.
The inferiorization of her body was affirmed in
medical discourse, in the guise of conduct books as well.
While most of the instructions to women on the physical
care of their bodies are written by doctors after
approximately 1750 42 , some medical treatises were written
earlier. These texts, while purporting to assist a woman
in the understanding and care of her body, insidiously mark
that body as less proficient than her male counterpart,
often focusing exclusively on female "diseases" that are
reputed to be the result of a woman's physiology. Nicholas
Fontanus 43 writes, "The Matrix is the cause of all those
diseases which happen to women" since it has a "Sympathie
with all the parts of the body" and this "consent holdeth"
with the brain, nerves, spine, the "hinder part of the
head," the heart, and the arteries that "lie about the
Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 2 4
43 Fontanus, Nicholas. The Womans Doctour: or an Exact and Distinct
Explanation of all such Diseases as are Peculiar to that Sex, (London:
1652) . While this text was not translated into English until 1652, the
fundamental beliefs about a woman's body hadn't changed appreciably
since Hipprocrates or Galen. See Gail Kern Paster's The Body
Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England
(Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993), for a brilliant discussion of how medical
discourse, derived from Galenic humoral theory, reinscribes the social
hierarchies already in place in early modern England. Medical writers
did not substantially alter the age-old concept of a woman's physiology
in spite of new empirical evidence. In fact, the old theories were
Abdomen at the bottome of the bellie," the liver, the
stomaach, the kidneys, the bladder, and the "straight
gut." 44 Fontanus does little more than rehearse the already
known "perfect understanding" of Hippocrates and other
ancients in regard to a woman's body. 45
Interestingly, the extent and severity of these
infirmities depend upon a woman's married state. Fontanus
divides female diseases into four categories: Those that
(1) are common to all women, (2) are peculiar to widows and
virgins, (3) concern barren women and fruitful ones, and
(4) "befall Women with Childe, and Nurses." 46 Fontanus then
asserts that "Wives are more healthfull then (sic) Widowes
or Virgins, because they are refreshed with mans seed, and
ejaculate their own, which being excluded, the cause of the
kept in place to reinscribe the inferiorization of a woman's body and,
therefore, her subjugation within a gendered hierarchy.
Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 2-3.
45 Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1980) . Maclean writes that Plato believed the uterus was an animal
that lived inside a woman because it had independent movement and even
a sense of smell. While Galen refuted this assertion, he agrees that
the uterus does move; however, this motion results from muscle
contractions. Early Renaissance Platonic apologists argued that Plato
used the moving uterus as a metaphor. I suggest that Renaissance
writers continued to utilize this metaphor as a means to suggest
woman's affinity to motion and that whether or not the uterus is an
animal in its own right is a moot point. Although, as Maclean points
out, most Renaissance scholars did not accept Plato's belief in this
particular instance, they still saw the uterus in motion and the cause
of much of a woman's physical discomfort and natural infirmity.
46 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 2-3.
evill is taken away." 47 A woman's "evill," therefore, is
removed only when she accepts a man's superior semen and
expells her own inferior seed.
Women, Fontanus suggests, in the interest of their
health and well-being, should marry. Married women have
less painful menses and thereby avoid a putrif ication of
the blood that leads to "heavinesse of minde, and dulnesse
of spirit, a benummednesse of the parts, timorousnesse, and
an aptnes to be frighted," as well as finding it difficult
to "fetch their breath." 48 Like the virgin, the widow is
more disposed to illness. A widow faces an "abundance of
spermatick humour" which Fontanus says, according to
Galen's report, can be "diminished by the hand of a
skilfull Midwife, and a convenient oyntment." 49 It folows
that the healthiest of women is not only the married one,
but the fruitful one as well. Childbirth, Fontanus
reports, opens veins and removes excess blood, avoiding all
manner of disease. Indeed, if a woman is concerned about
living a healthy life, Fontanus suggests she must marry and
bear children. This conclusion, in light of the high
47 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 4
48 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 5
49 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 6.
incidence of death from childbirth does not seem to concern
Fontanus in the least.
As a consequence of her physiological shortcomings,
conduct books exhort women to carry themselves with
restraint. Thomas Becon, in his Workes (1560-64), writes
that the "wickedness of a woman changeth her face: she
shall muzzle her countenance, as it were a bear, and as a
sack shall she shew it among the neighbours." 50 Moreover, a
woman's bodily carriage reflects her socio-economic
position insofar as her averted glances, blushes, and
unfurrowed brows bespeak her lack of authority and her
economic dependence upon her father, spouse, or other male
guardian. A wife was not only to acknowledge her
inferiority to her husband but also was to carry herself as
an inferior to all men. William Whately, in a Bride Bush
(1617) , writes,
The whole duty of the wife is referred
to two heads. The first is, to
acknowledge her inferiority: the next,
to carry her selfe as inferiour. First
then the wiues iudgement must be
conuinced, that she is not her husbands
equall, yea that her husband is her
better by farre; else there can bee no
contentment, either in her heart, or in
her house. 51
Here, Becon, in The Catachism, is quoting "Jesus, the son of Sirach"
51 William Whately, A Bride-Bush, 36, emphasis mine.
Barnabe Rich, in The Honestie of this Age (1614),
warns women against the use of certain "wanton" gestures,
citing the "Prophet Esay" [Isaiah 3:16] who
reprehendeth the wanton gestures that
were vsed by the daughters of Sion in
his daies, at their haugtinesse of
minde, at their stretched out neckes,
at their wandering eyes, at their
walking and their mincing as they passe
through the streets.... 52
Rich's text bemoans the fact that the women of his day were
no longer judged by their bodily comportment as severely as
they were during Solomon's day who believed the "true
markes of a wicked woman" consisted of the
bitternesse of a tongue, the pride of a
haughtie heart, the shamelesnesse of a
face, the immodesty of a mind, the
imudency of lookes, the rowling of
wanton eyes, the lewdness of manners,
the lightnesse of behauiour, the
looseness of life.... 53
He insists that a "womans honestie is pent vp in a litle
roome, it is still confined but from her girdle downewards"
and that "there is no imperfection in a woman but that of
her bodie. " 54
52 Barnabe Rich, The Honestie of this Age (London: 1614) 15.
53 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 16.
54 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 16.
As long as a woman polices her body, Rich says, her
mind and its "deformities" are of no concern. Women, he
concludes, are the more fortunate because men are
answerable for both mind and body. Yet, women are also far
more accountable for their comportment since, Rich claims,
"Our behauiours, our gestures, and our outward attyres are
tongs to proclaime the inward disposition of the mind." 55
Calling on mothers to be a good example to their daughters,
he recites an "olde prouerbe": "If the mother trot how
should the daughter amble?" 56 The length of a woman's steps
proclaims the degree of her constancy. Therefore, trotting
women are sexually incontinent.
The silent and gesturally-obedient wife's will, along
with her virginity, was to be stolen from her by her
husband as she acknowledged her inferiority to all men and
gendered her body through her restricted motions. The idea
of woman being associated with motion is nothing new. In
his study of Renaissance attitudes toward woman in regard
to the scholarship and scholarly texts, Ian Maclean writes,
From the earliest times, and in the
most far-flung cultures, the notion of
female has in some sense been opposed
55 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 26-27
56 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 27.
to that of male, and aligned with other
Drawing from a previous study, Maclean demonstrates the
earliest use of polarity in regard to masculine and
at rest moving
good evil 58
Maclean goes on to show how this male/female dichotomy,
inherited from Aristotle, was adapted by Renaissance
scholars and utilized to develop their "notion of woman."
Obvious from this list of polarities are the early
modern beliefs, as opined in the contemporary conduct
books, that a woman is excessive and incontinent, a charge
often made in regard to her voracious and insatiable sexual
desire; plural or inconsistent, another well-worn conduct-
book contention; moving, something the conduct books
attempt to correct by incarcerating a women in her domicile
(medical writers also blame a "moving" uterus for almost
Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman, 2
58 Maclean, in The Renaissance Notion of Woman, cites a study by G.E.R.
Lloyd entitled Polarity and Analogy: Two Types of Argumentation in
all of a woman's gynecological problems, mentioned above);
dark and evil, a concept supported by theological
references to Mother Eve; and curved, another theological
claim derived from a woman's being formed out of Adam's
"crooked" rib. This "crookedness" can refer to both a
woman's moral turpitude and her physical deformities. The
right/left dichotomy harks back to Galen's elaborate
description of the anatomical structure of the genital
organs in which he purports that the left male testis and
the left side of the uterus receive "uncleansed" blood and
are, therefore, inferior as well as responsible for the
procreation of a female child, also inferior. The right
sides of the genital organs were closer to the liver,
hotter, and therefore, superior. Naturally, the right
sides produced a male heir. 59
How any of these qualities, other than "evil," were
assumed to be pejorative in the first place and became the
linchpin of all major premises about the condition of women
cannot be explained, other than the fact that Aristotle
said they were. Renaissance scholars almost never
Early Greek Thought (Cambridge, 1971) in which Lloyd demonstrates how
these opposites were utilized in argumentation.
3 Danielle Jacquart and Claude Thomasset. Sexuality and Medicine in the
Middle Ages, trans. Matthew Adamson (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988).
See especially Chapter 2.
questioned them and continued to employ them in their
discourses, methodically and authoritatively inferiorizing
a woman' s body.
Maclean's succinct study traces the historical
development of the Renaissance concept of woman and her
inherent inferiority from classical philosophers and early
Church Fathers and demonstrates how these beliefs became
interdisciplinary in the sense that they were used in
religious, medical, political, social, and legal
discourses. Each discourse "proved" something different in
regard to the inferior nature of a woman's mind and body;
however, they all arrived at the same conclusion: a woman
was, in all regards, inferior and, therefore, could not
engage in public affairs and in the formation of the
culture in which she existed. 60 Because a woman was
constitutive of so many negative qualities, a conclusion
justified through the citation of authoritative texts, 61 it
was "for her own good" that a wife submit herself to her
husband's rule. If she refused to adhere to his
admonitions, her husband was to "cut her off then from
60 In regard to cultural alienation of women, see Sandra Lee Bartky.
For the separation of women from the public sphere, see Joan Kelly.
61 Maclean, in The Renaissance Notion of Woman, says that these
"authoritative texts were influential throughout the Renaissance" (5) .
[his] flesh, that she do not alway abuse [him]." 62 In most
cases, this "cutting off" would have left a woman without
any economic support and in a world in which she had no
place to turn.
A woman's gestures not only became the silent
indicators of her economic dependence and inferior
constitution but also of her inward state. Her soul, in
ther words, was exposed through her actions, down to the
focusing of her eye. According to Richard Brathwaite,
The Sanctuary of her heart is solely
dedicated to her Maker; it can find no
roome for an inordinate affection to
lodge in. Shee knowes not how to throw
out her loue-attracting Lures; nor to
expose the glorious beauty of her soule
to shame. A moments staine must not
blemish her state. Shee will not
therefore giue her eye leaue to wander,
lest it should betray her honour to a
treacherous intruder. 63
As Michel Foucault points out, the modern soul is the
result of a "certain technology of power over the body, " 64 a
duplication of the body similar to that witnessed in the
body of the king as both person and monarch. The modern
soul exists as a reality, functions as corrective power, is
Becon, The Catachism, 345.
63 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 203.
64 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,
trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979) 29.
born out of "methods of punishment, supervision and
constraint." 65 The early modern feminine soul still
maintained some of the aspects of the Christian soul,
harking back to the practices of medieval female religious
figures. A woman's piety was inextricably connected to her
morphology. Her exterior bodily manifestations, while less
extreme than her medieval counterpart's, were her soul's
expression of its spiritual condition. But the early
modern female body also began to assimilate some of the
qualities of the Foucauldian modern soul since it was
beginning to be methodologically generated through a bodily
taxonomy in conduct books that became increasingly specific
regarding a woman's feminine gesturology . 66 The exterior of
her body became the signifier of not only her spiritual but
also her social status. While Foucault contends that the
modern soul is imprisoned by the body, I suggest that the
early modern female body was incarcerated by the soul, an
65 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 29.
66 Foucault, in Discipline & Punish, uses the term "bodily rhetoric," to
describe the "signs" of a seventeenth century soldier (135) . I choose
the term "feminine gesturology" for two reasons. First, I wish to
indicate how gestures are meant to indicate gender, not just one's
social ranking. Second, I prefer the term "gesturology," as opposed to
"rhetoric, " since it indicates an unspoken language and, more
importantly, the unspeaking of women, a goal of the conduct books.
exterior soul manifested in a prescribed bodily
The materiality of the early modern woman's body as
the linchpin of the early modern conduct books signifies
the material goods that were fast becoming a crucial
ingredient in a protocapitalist society. Unlike the
eighteenth century soldier or factory worker Foucault
describes, 68 a wife was to remain in her home almost
exclusively. She was not to gad about, to gossip, or to
circulate within the community. To circulate was to defile
her body, to open it up for censure.
However, similar to Foucault' s factory worker,
soldier, or boarding school student, the early modern
housewife was enjoined to an increased mastery over her
body through self-discipline and an adherence to conduct
books rules, producing the Foucauldian "docile body." As
the rules for a woman's daily regimen became more and
meticulous, the form in which conduct books were written
began to alter. They started to deploy an organized form
67 See Judith Butler, "Gender Trouble, Feminist Theory, and
Psychoanalytic Discourse," in Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda J.
Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1990) . I agree with Judith Butler who
sees the soul not as an interior construct but as an exterior
inscription on the body. However, while she sees the soul as
invisible, I find it to be highly visible through the "signs" of a
woman's bodily comportment.
68 Foucault, Discipline & Punish. See especially Part III, Chapter 1.
of writing termed "method" 69 where subject matter is
dichotomized, halved, and reduced to "so-called
indivisibles or essentials." 70 The "disciplinary space of
natural beings" or "taxonomy" Foucault discusses regarding
the supervision of eighteenth-century soldiers 71 inheres in
these later conduct books. Just as the economic table
formed "the regulated movement of wealth," 72 in the
eighteenth century, so did conduct books fashion the
prescribed movement of a woman's body in the late sixteenth
and early seventeenth centuries.
One conduct book, entitled The Good Wife, precedes its
description of "A Wife" with a paragraph entitled "The
Method." In essence, this introductory paragraph describes
the making of a wife. The author concludes that once a man
has chosen his wife, he must follow the choice with "the
application of that woman by loue to himself e, which makes
her a Wife. And lastly, the onely condition of a Wife,
Fitnesse." 73 A good wife's fitness is not to be found in
69 See Dudley Fenner, The Artes of Logike and Rhetorike (1584),
especially the sixth chapter entitled "Method."
70 Newman, Fashioning Femininity, 21.
71 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 149.
72 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 150.
73 Brathwaite, The Good Wife (London, 1619) n. pag.
her "Byrth, Beautie," or "Wealth" but in her soul where
"Gods Image" resides. 74 And, as the conduct books
continually rehearse, a woman's inward state can be read on
her exterior. Paradoxically, the more a woman refined her
gestures, the more deeply she inscribed herself in
subjection to male authority.
As Foucault writes, "disciplinary coercion establishes
in the body the constricting link between an increased
aptitude and an increased domination," 75 a discipline that
"sometimes requires enclosure." 76 "The household," A. J.
Fletcher and J. Stevenson write, "was the major vehicle of
discipline in the early modern period." 77 A well-ordered
household was key to the "maintenance of a well-regulated
society." 78 And within the microcosm of the household, the
husband ultimately ruled the roost. Taking personal
temperament and other mitigating factors into account,
Fletcher and Stevenson believe "there is no question that
74 Brathwaite, The Good Wife, n. pag.
75 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 136.
76 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 141.
7 Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson, introduction, Order and Disorder
in Early Modern England, ed. by Fletcher and Stevenson (Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1985) 32.
78 Fletcher and Stevenson, introduction, 32.
the head of the household was envisaged as the linchpin of
family discipline." 79
Should a woman find it necessary to go out, one
conduct book writer advises:
Now, Gentlewomen, you are to put on
your vailes, and goe into Company.
Which (I am perswaded) you cannot enter
without a maidenblush, a modest
tincture. Herein you are to be most
cautelous, seeing no place can be more
mortally dangerous. 80
A woman's blush, in fact, is her "best Rhetoricke, " along
with "bashfull smiles." 81 Furthermore, if she receives a
"light report," 82 her ears should glow as well.
A woman's identity became so inextricably intertwined
with her home and her household duties that it became
common for a woman's body to be conflated with the
quotidian items with which she was surrounded. In a
conduct book by Sir Hugh Plat, 83 "The Table" often mixes
recipes for "beautie" products with those for boiling fish.
Some examples follow:
Beefe fresh at the sea c,20
79 Fletcher and Stevenson, introduction, 33.
80 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 41.
81 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 170.
82 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 168.
83 Plat, Table of Contents.
Beautie for the face d,7,14
Bisket bread, or French bisket a, 19
Face spotted or freckled to help d,6,23
Face made faire d,7,14
Face full of heate, helped d, 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21
Face kept white and cleare d, 12
Fish into paste c, 14
Handwater excellent d,2,28
Hands stained to helpe d, 5
Hands freckled to helpe d, 6
As becomes obvious from the table, along with keeping
the house spotless, a woman needed to keep her hands and
face free from spots, freckles, and blemishes. Taxonomized
alongside her household items, the feminized body was to
perform efficiently while maintaining a regimen that would
keep her skin flawless, or more accurately, make her
imperfections disappear. According to Sir Hugh, a lady can
remove stains from her hands by washing the stain with the
"iuyce of Sorrell" (Item d,5). She also can remove spots
and freckles from her hands and face with the "sappe that
issueth out of a Birch tree" (Item d,6). One's face can be
beautified with the ground "iawe bones of a Hogge or Sow"
(Item d,7). Teeth are whitened by washing them "now and
then" with a combination of honey, vinegar, and white wine
(Item d,10). Other recipes for flawless skin contain
mercury, brimstone, and even turpentine. Sir Hugh has a
remedy for bruises, one that "proued good successe in a
maid that fell downe a paire of staires, whereby all her
face was extremely disfigured." The patient is required to
apply "hote clothes one after another without intermission"
while standing before a "greate fire" for "one houre and a
halfe, or until the swelling be cleane abated" (Item d,24).
And for those ladies who "do now and then delight to
sweat," Sir Hugh explains how a woman may rig up a steam
bath. He cautions, however: "Note that the room would be
close wherein you place your bathing tub, least any sodain
cold should happen to offend you whilest your bodie is made
open and porous to the aire" (Item d,28). Openness and
porosity for a woman's body is not only unhealthy but also
The early modern period seemed to place a great deal
of emphasis on the image of a woman with white skin and red
lips and cheeks since the "ideal of feminine beauty in the
Elizabethan age expressed itself in extremes of white and
red." 84 Since, as I demonstrated above, women were covered
with garments from head to toe, there was little left to
work with other than the face and neck to which they gave a
great deal of attention. In order to achieve the desired
effect, women resorted to concoctions that, paradoxically,
Carroll Camden, The Elizabethan Woman (Houston: Elsevier, 1952) 178.
were damaging to a woman's skin and health in general.
While some writers warned women of the contra-indications
of the use of ceruse or white lead, 85 for example, others
warned against it because the "painting" of one's face was
the work of the devil. 86
Playwrights, too, ridiculed women for their beauty
regimens. In Ben Jonson's Epicoene, Captain Otter insults
his wife, claiming that "Every part o' the town owns a
piece of her." 87 Women were positioned in a no-win
situation. They were told that their skin, like their
bodies, was defective and needed remedies which were
published in books by men and sold to women. A woman's
inferior nature, then, became a rather lucrative commodity,
not only for the writers of conduct books but also for the
merchants who sold the beauty products as well as for the
playwrights whose antifeminist barbs drew many laughs and
the crowds who paid their salaries. Husbands, however,
criticized their wives for their beauty regimines because,
Camden, in The Elizabethan Woman, cites Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, who
in 1598 wrote that when women use ceruse or white lead on their faces,
they "doe quickly become withered and gray headed, because this doth so
mightely drie vp the naturall moysture of their flesh" (178).
Camden, in The Elizabethan Woman, quotes Thomas Tuke who, in 1616,
claimed that ceruse or white lead was "brought in vse by the diuell,
the capitall enemie of nature. . ." (179).
87 Ben Jonson, Epicoene, IV. i. 258-9. All quotations from Drama of the
English Renaissance II: The Stuart Period, Russell A. Fraser and Norman
Rabkin, eds . (New York: MacMillan, 1976).
as Captain Otter says, it costs money: "She spends me
forty pound a year in mercury and hog' s-bones . " 88 As
demonstrated above, both mercury and hog's bones were used
to whiten a woman's skin. Captain Otter, too, was
disconcerted because his wife was not performing the
"office and dutie of a Wife." 99 Governed by Mrs. Otter, the
Captain attempts to regain his masculine authority by
demeaning his wife in the company of other men. According
to one conduct book author, Mrs. Otter as a bad wife is
but as an eye of glasse, or a siluer
nose, or an iuorie tooth, or an iron
hand, or a woodden leg, that occupieth
the place indeed, and beareth the Name
of a limbe or a member, but is not
truly or properly any part of that
bodie whereunto it is fastned; it is
but equiuocally so called. 90
Once again, the notion of woman as the defective Other is
propagated. Gataker continues his diatribe against the bad
wife, suggesting that while these are "artificiall and
equiuocall limbs," they do serve a purpose insofar as
they helpe to supply a place defectiue,
that would otherwise stand vacant, and
by supplying it, to conceale in part
Epicoene, IV. i. 255-6,
89 Thomas Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," A Good Wife Gods Gift and A Wife
Indeed: Two Mariage Sermons, (London, 1623) 9.
Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 9.
such blemishes, as would otherwise lie
more open to the eye of others. 91
Reduced to a bundle of artificial prostheses, an unruly
woman, a bad wife, can be controlled piecemeal. Conduct
books aim to produce women as individual, taxonomized,
disciplined, trained, and spatially ordered units to manage
them and, in turn, to have them manage a home as frugally
as possible. The less a man expended on his household, the
more he had to invest in his capitalistic ventures. The
frugality of a woman's gestures mirrored the thriftiness
she employed to efficiently and economically run the
household, the disciplinary regime under which she
functioned and to which she subjected her body, and the
frugal nature of her social worth. A well-disciplined
body," Foucault writes, "forms the operational context of
the slightest gesture." 92 In other words, gesture and
discipline, whether obvious or covert, are inseparable.
Richard Brathwaite's The English Gentlewoman,
epitomizes the taxonimization of the female body. Its
title page is preceded by a frontispiece that reads:
The meaning of the Frontispice, wherein
the Effigies itselfe; together with all
the Emblemes, Deuices, Features, and
91 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 9.
92 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 152.
Imprezzas thereto properly conducing,
are to life described. 93
Following this is a list of the eight subjects to which a
woman must attend if she is to become a true English
gentlewoman: "apparell," "behavior," "compliment,"
"decency," "estimation," "fancy," "gentility," and
"honovr." Beneath each subject is a brief description.
Following this list is the author's commentary:
Each Subiect had distinguish ' d beene by line,
And form'd their Modell to the first deuice,
But this choyce piece was hastened so by time,
It scarce got sight of that first Frontispice:
Yet from this shrine such natiue beames arise,
Impartiall eyes will iudge, right sure I am,
Her grace improues the place from whence shee
And well deserues an English Gentleman. 94
As Ruth Kelso aptly concludes, although the lady did exist
"in actuality though not in theory," she subsisted in
relation to the gentleman who was not only the "ideal man
so elaborately set forth by the renaissance," but also the
"ideal of man in the generic sense." 95
93 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, Frontispiece.
Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, Frontispiece.
Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance, 2. The scope of Kelso's
study is wider than mine, both in regard to geography and subject
matter. Kelso not only discusses the European lady, but she also
discusses four types of texts that were written about women during the
Renaissance: (1) the "war of the sexes," [most thoroughly examined by
Linda Woodbridge in Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and
the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1984), in
which she contends that often the defenses of women were a part of' the
forensic rhetoric that became a long-standing tradition in regard to
Deprived of her own identity, a wife achieved
recognition as she mirrored her husband. Unless she were a
nun, prior of course to Henry VIII' s edict, or a widow, who
was always under suspicion and male scrutiny, a woman
needed a man to be drawn out of the shadowy social
periphery and recognized as a person. Interestingly, The
English Gentlewoman, when initially published in 1631, was
printed in a folio edition 96 with the English Gentleman in
1641, as a compendium, an attachment to its predecessor.
Functioning as a trope for a woman, The English Gentlewoman
was read in the context of The English Gentleman, the
feminine text finding its meaning by way of its physical
attachment to its masculine predecessor, the feminine text
being economically dependent upon the financial success of
the masculine text.
According to Brathwaite, the gentlewoman, constitutive
of eight subjects, was under the constant scrutiny of an
impartial divine gaze. If she reached an acceptable degree
of improvement through her self-disciplinary measures, she
the "question" of women]; (2)the training and duties of the wife, the
focus of my present study; (3) love and beauty, some of which I discuss
in relation to the inferiorization of a woman's body; and (4) the
96 Hull, in a "Basic List of Books for Women, 1475-1640," in Chaste,
Silent & Obedient, writes that the 1641 folio publication was "one of
the few early women's books to appear as a pretentious type of
publication" (153). Yet, in order to achieve this pretension, it had
to be appended to its male counterpart.
would be rewarded with an "English Gentleman." Better yet,
Robert Crowley suggests in The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet
that if a woman comport herself properly, she will procure
a husband without a dowry:
Paynt not thy face in any wise
But make thy maners for to shyne
And thou shalt please all such mens
As do to godlines enclyne.
Be thou modeste, sober and wise
And learne the poyntes of houswyfry
And men shal haue the in such price
That thou shalt not nede a dowry. 97
Lady Arabella Wentworth, to whom The English Gentlewoman is
dedicated, seems to be the ideal woman of the conduct book.
Brathwaite finds her commendable because she has been "so
well Schooled in the Discipline of this Age, as shee onely
desires to retaine in memory that forme which is least
affected but most comely.... 98 Furthermore, the Lady is
commended because she "devides her day into houres, her
houres into holy taskes." 99
Clearly, conduct books had their own system of
"normalization" of the individual in that they created
Robert Crowley, "The Womans Lesson" in The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet
(London, 1549) n. pag. Crowley's text is divided into twelve chapters,
each a "lesson" to a particular station in life. The final chapter is
entitled "The Womans lesson."
98 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, Dedication.
Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, Dedication.
their own "gratification-punishment" system. 100 Punishment
was still ultimately to be found in the metaphysical realm;
women were continually warned by these texts and from the
pulpit that they must submit themselves to their husbands
according to God's decree. If not, they would pay an
eternal price, not to mention the possibility of the
temporal cart, 101 the cucking stool, 102 or a husband's
hand. 103 Like the individual in the workshop, school, or
army, the early modern woman was subject to a "micro-
penality of time..., activity..., behaviour..., speech..., body...,
100 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 180.
Various forms of cart or wagon rides such as the skimington were
employed as communal punishment in which a "hen-pecked" husband was
mocked and a disorderly wife was put back in her "place." See David
Underdown, "The Taming of the Scold," in Order and Disorder in Early
Modern England, eds . Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson (Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1985) 116-36 and Martin Ingram, "The Reform of Popular
Culture? Sex and Marriage in Early Modern England," in Popular Culture
in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Barry Reay (New York: St Martin's
102 Women were strapped to a stool and dunked in a pond or body of water
as punishment for behaving like a "shrew" or a "scold." See Linda
Boose, "Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly
Member," in Shakespeare Quarterly 42: 179-312.
J Ruth Kelso, in Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance, writes, "To
beat or not to beat was not in fact a mere academic question. The
prerogative of corporal punishment belonged without question to all
husbands whatever their rank, carrying with it some conviction of its
necessity as the only efficacious cure for certain evils inherent in
women" (85). Spousal abuse was not only approved of in the lower ranks
of society. Kelso gives an example of Dr. William Gager, an Oxford
graduate, who in 1616, publicly sanctioned wife beating. Susan Amussen
in "Gender, Family and the Social Order," in Order and Disorder in
Early Modern England, 196-217, demonstrates that not all conduct book
writers were in agreement regarding wife beating. While William
Whately, in A Bride-Bush, condoned it as a last measure, William Gouge
believed it to be "the least effective method of correction available
to a husband" (201) .
sexuality..., and punishment...." 104 If they adhered to the
precepts, they would be worthy of a husband and, perhaps,
parturition. And, if they desired heavenly rewards, they
must eschew the behavior of recalcitrant wives who have
their wills "with their Husbands while they liue here" but
"are neuer like to haue any reward at Gods hands." 105
While Foucault addresses the well-disciplined male
body of the eighteenth century, he does not discuss the
significance of the early modern body in regard to gender.
He connects the cellular life of a Medieval monk to the
disciplinary practices deployed on the modern body and
suggests that while "in every society, the body was in the
grip of very strict powers, which imposed on it
constraints, prohibitions or obligations," it wasn't until
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that these
disciplines worked on the individual body in a formulaic
manner to achieve domination over it. The body of the
early modern woman is a primary example of bodily
individuation and control. It is strategically positioned
between a residual religious ideology and an emergent
economic one. The body of the early modern woman was a
104 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, Hi
105 Thomas Gataker, "A Wife in Deed." A Good Wife Gods Gift and A Wife
Indeed: Two Mariage Sermons, (London, 1623) 26.
body that bridged the bodies of two cultures and time
periods. Still etched upon the early modern female corpus
were traces of the Christian interior soul of the Medieval
celibate. This earlier inscription, however, was being
overwritten, occluded by a feminine gesturology that marked
the exterior soul of the early modern woman whose regulated
movements silently foreshadowed the highly-disciplined
eighteenth-century individual, one maximum efficiency would
serve a modern capitalist economy.
The female body of the seventeenth century, whose
"habite of the minde may be best discerned by the carriage
of the body," 106 was a transitional body whose "euery
motion, action, posture, gesture" 107 became the site of
change. This highly-individuated body would ultimately
serve Mammon, not God, still maintaining the patriarchal
hegemony that had reigned prior to its fashioning and would
continue to rule during its refashioning. Lawrence Stone
argues, in fact, that patriarchy in the middling and upper
classes was strengthened during the Early Modern Period.
Although patriarchy was no longer undergirded by the
kinship and clientage system, it was enhanced by both the
106 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, "A Compendious Table.
107 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 6.
ideology of Church and State, as I discuss above. While
Stone says this strengthening cannot be proven, he believes
it a highly plausible theory insofar as patriarchy relied
less on "raw power or legal authority" and more on a
"recognition by all concerned of its legitimacy, hallowed
by ancient tradition, moral theology and political
theory." 108 The "minute disciplines" of a woman's gendered
and gesturing body became the platform on which the
"asymmetry of power" between men and women rested.
Although this feminized body would become the site of its
own discipline, it would, nevertheless, continue to be
considered inferior, both materially and ontologically.
Indeed, it is because of its weak nature that a female body
must discipline itself in an effort to overcome its innate
infirmities in the guise of a Christian morality. Each
gesture, therefore, became a tacit mea culpa, an admission
of that body's natural inferiority. Moreover, each gesture
became a means of "formalization" of the female individual
within male-dominant power relations. 109 Inherent in this
coding of the female body was its requirement to remain
outside the public arena as the marginalized and privatized
Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 109.
See Foucault's discussion, in Discipline & Punish, of power
relations in regard to the "examination," 189-91.
Other. Women, one conduct book author says, "may be in
security, so long as [they] are sequestred from society." 110
"Chastity" is, after all, "an inclosed Garden." 111 The
cellular home of the nuclear family and the gesturally-
obedient body served to twice enclose the seventeenth
110 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 43.
111 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 42.
TWO MINCING STEPS
In early modern drama, the female characters' bodily
comportment reflects the strictures promulgated in
contemporary conduct books. The dramatic representations
performed for the Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences are
what Susan Zimmerman refers to as "primary decoders" of
prevailing "hegemonic attitudes" 1 and what I believe
manifest the early modern masculine ideal of a woman, most
clearly evidenced through codified feminine gestures.
Although the comic heroines seemingly survive by their
uncanny wit 2 and the cross-dressed seat of their pants, they
nevertheless display their "femininity" through a gendered
Michael Shapiro suggests that transvestite boy actors
playing the roles of female characters disguised as pages
had to continually remind their audience that they were
1 Susan Zimmerman, introduction, Erotic Politics: Desire on the
Renaissance stage, ed. by Zimmerman (New York: Routledge, 1992) 7.
2 Valerie Wayne, introduction, The Matter of Difference: Materialist
Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. by Wayne (New York: Harvester
Wheatsheaf, 1991). Wayne discusses how groupings of essays in this
text "call into question earlier, more formalist accounts of the
comedies as providing a haven of possibilities for women" (12) . I
support this reassessment of Shakespeare's comic heroines and argue
that their feminine gesturology belies their ostensible wit and power.
women and not boy actors playing the roles of female pages.
Therefore, Shapiro says, the talented play-boys did so
through a display of sartorial shame or "self-
referentiality."3 This is a possibility, since some of the
dramas required layer upon layer of disguise. However, the
early modern English spectator was well-accustomed to the
theatrical tradition of an all-male cast and had long
accepted young boys in female roles. While an English
traveler may have seen actresses on the continental or even
English stage, this seems to prove the exception. 4 The all-
male cast, rooted in Greek theater, could have been a
reinstantiation of a theatrical practice begun as early as
the fifth century BC. 5 It appears that the Renaissance
3 Michael Shapiro, introduction, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean
Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P,
1994). Shapiro believes that boy actors playing the roles of women who
were, in turn, disguised as pages, had to remind their audience that
they were women characters. He says the female character disguised as
a page would most likely look no differently than the boy actor.
Therefore, the boy actor qua cross-dressed female character had to
employ a gesturology than marked him as a woman to alleviate spectator
Stephen Orgel, Impersonations: Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's
England (Cambridge, 1996) . Orgel argues that there were many
exceptions to the English theatrical tradition of an all-male cast.
However, he does not cite enough examples to convince me that there
were enough exceptions to disprove the rule.
Sue-Ellen Case, Feminism and Theatre (New York: Methuen, 1988). Case
tracks the all-male cast back to the Athenian theater: "In the sixth
century, both women and men participated in [Athenian festivals of
Dionysos], but during the fifth century, when the ceremonies were
becoming what is known as theatre, women disappeared from the practice"
(7). She argues that changing socio-economic conditions resulted in
the emergence of the new "cultural codes of Athens" (8) as reflected in
theatrical practice. As the city state emerged, the old, aristocratic
interest in classical drama may have influenced the English
in maintaining their practice of clearing the stage of
In such an environment, boy actors had an opportunity
to display their acting expertise, or what Shapiro terms
"theatrical vibrancy" when playing their cross-gendered
roles. 6 Shapiro believes that these roles accentuated the
boy actor's virtuosity while adding depth and strength to
the female character. For the most part, Shapiro remains
within the theatrical world and makes little commentary on
how such representations of women reflected the material
and ideological circumstances surrounding such productions.
In one sense, these multi-gendered roles blurred gender
boundaries, subverting the dominant ideology and the
contesting hegemonies; 7 in another sense, they reinscribed
extended family paled in the light of the single-family unit that
supported the polls and functioned as the "site for the creation and
transmission of personal wealth" (9). Women were moved out of the
public sphere and into the private one, relegated to the gendered roles
of housekeeper and reproductive vessel and alienated from the
political, economic, and social world of men. Women were further
alienated from the cultural world as well, forbidden to appear on the
public stage. Real women were represented exclusively by men both in
the written dramatic text and in the performance of female roles.
While I do not want to make a facile correlation, this scenario, none
the less, is strikingly similar to the one found in early modern
6 Shapiro, Gender in Play, 133.
7 See Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle (New York:
Routledge, 1994) and Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-dressing
and Cultural Anxiety (New York: Routledge, 1992) .
those same male-dominant hegemonies. A boy actor always
played the female character; a male body, therefore, was
always at the "bottom" of a multi-gendered role,
constituting the originary layer upon which all subseguent
parts were predicated. Shapiro writes that the potentially
disruptive nature of the boy-heroine/female-page plays was
countered through boy-players' utilization of self-
referentiality, a reminder to the audience that the female
character was being played by a male. Additionally,
Shapiro says that any disruption of gender roles would have
been countered by the theatrical space in which these
representations were confined. 8
What's more, as Catherine Belsey points out in her
readings of Shakespearean plays, these dramas
reveal with great subtlety the shifts
that language is put to in defense of a
Renaissance masculinity which so
engrosses meaning to itself that it
constantly risks the exclusion of its
defining other. 9
As much as the play-boy's deftness at negotiating each of
his character's layers of identity might have strengthened
the role of a female character, that character was,
B Shapiro, Gender in Play.
3 Catherine Belsey, "A Future for Materialist Feminist Criticism?" in
The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of
Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (New York: Harvester Wheatheaf, 1991)
nevertheless, occluded by the play-boy's performance.
Indeed, woman was ultimately excluded as her material body
was removed from the stage and re-presented by the body of
a boy actor. As Susan Zimmerman suggests, "The theatre was
a male preserve, the transvestite acting convention a
confirmation of it." 10
But once the stage was cleared of women's bodies and
left with their male representations, how did the actors
create a convincing portrayal of the opposite sex? In
regard to Athenian theater, Case suggests that in addition
to the donning of the female costume and mask, replete with
long hair, a male actor "might have indicated gender
through gesture, movement and intonation." 11 Because this
representation of woman is created and performed by men,
Case believes it could not reflect a female experience,
only a masculine perspective of that experience. The
"vocabulary of gestures," then would have "initiated the
image of 'Woman' as she is seen on the stage-
institutionalised through patriarchal culture and
Susan Zimmerman, "Disruptive desire: Artifice and Indeterminacy in
Jacobean comedy," Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance stage (New
York: Routledge, 1992) 39-63. Zimmerman argues that in spite of the
male-dominant Renaissance "unisexual model," (42) gender identity was
always in question. It would appear that by inculcating women with a
feminine gesturology, the gender boundaries being transgressed could be
re-established more firmly and in accordance to masculine standards.
11 Case, Feminism and Theatre, 11.
represented by male-originated signs of her appropriate
gender behaviour."" As a result of this formalized and
theatricalized representation of women, a "subtextual
message was delivered about the nature of the female
gender, its behaviour, appearance, and formal distance from
the representation of the male."" In the Renaissance, the
renewed interest in classical literature resurrected this
subtextual message 14 as it was expressed in the redeployment
of a highly-stylized set of feminine gestures both on the
stage through drama and off the boards through conduct
Through her blushes, averted glances, mincing steps,
and other outward signs, the cross-dressed female character
reminded the spectators that, within the context of the
drama, she was a woman with short-lived power. Temporarily
bestowed upon her was an "unnatural" capacity that
discomfited her and that she would shed as expeditiously as
Case, Feminism and Theatre, 11
13 Case, Feminism and Theatre, 11,
Case, in Feminism and Theatre, writes, "The 'classics' of Athenian
Roman and Elizabethan drama were all produced by cultures that denied
women access to the stage and allowed them few legal and economic '
rights. The values of a patriarchal society are embedded in the texts
of these periods" (12) .
Shakespeare's Julia wishes to shed her "immodest raiment." 15
Indeed, the heightened wit, sense of purpose, and self-
confidence female characters display as they saunter
through their Elizabethan adventures is evident most often
when they don a male disguise. The "undercover" woman who
appears to have attained ascendancy in her social space
only reinscribes a model of feminine socialization upon her
body as she self-consciously gestures toward her femininity
and its inherent fear of being discovered as a "fraud."
The female character's transvestitism, therefore,
underscores the Renaissance presumption of woman as weak
and vulnerable, rendering the comic heroine's sartorial
slippage innocuous. The boy actor may be reminding the
audience that beneath his attire lurks a female character;
however, the spectators are advised correspondingly of that
female character's sense of displacement and of her
discomfort with her stuffed codpiece and resultant license
to authorize the actions of other characters. Insofar as
she is continually marking her own social position through
self-censure and gesturology, a female character, and by
implication, the gender she represents, is never liberated
from a putatively "natural" inferior status.
15 The Two Gentlemen of Verona, V.iv.106. All quotations from
Shakespeare are from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David
Bevington. (Glenview, ILL: Scott, Foresman, 1980.)
In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Lucetta tells Julia
that she needs to be fitted not only for a pair of breeches
but also for a codpiece, an ornamented one at that! Julia
considers her transvestism immodest but will endure
whatever shame her costume imposes on her in order to
reunite with Proteus. The codpiece both elicits the
required sense of modesty from the chaste Julia, and evokes
the audience's awareness that Julia is a masculine
representation and idealization of the chaste and
submissive woman. 16 The fictional character of Julia finds
herself sandwiched between the male actor who is portraying
her as well as the male character she is portraying.
Encased by the masculine, the female character is
diminished and devalued. Foremost on stage is a male body
playing a masculine representation of a woman constructed
by a male-encoded series of gestures. Julia's bodily
comportment speaks of an inherent female inferiority as
Julia discovers she is incapable of wearing male attire and
assuming the authority it bears. Like the women readers of
conduct books, Julia engages in the internalization of her
16 Case, in Feminism and Theatre, in discussing the role of the satyr in
Athenian state festivals, writes, "The gender-specific quality of the
actor in the satyr play was even underscored by his wearing of a
leather phallus. Thus, the actor/dramatic subject was male" (11).
Indeed, a dozen dancing satyrs reappear on the Elizabethan stage in
inferior nature and believes she is inadequate. She
constantly judges herself through that internal mechanism
and displays the product of her self-censure through her
Once she arrives in Milan, Julia's physical
transformation manifests itself beyond her attire as her
once-fair skin, no longer "masked," tans from exposure to
the sun. 17 She is disconcerted when she discovers she is
"becoming" a man, believing her body is being threatened
with desexualization and, ultimately, with annihilation. 18
Her gendered body, no matter how constructed, or by whom,
is after all, her only secure identity. Ania Loomba
Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale during the sheep-shearing festival in
Act IV, Scene iv.
17 Carroll Camden, The Elizabethan Woman (Houston: Elsevier, 1952) .
Camden writes that Elizabethan ladies wore masks when going outside to
protect "what we should like to call the peaches and cream complexion"
(181). However, Camden suggests that these masks were "perhaps...used as
a method of covering defects and adding a little mystery" (181) .
Camden's analysis reinscribes the Renaissance notion of a woman's body
as both inherently defective and as sexual object and utilizes the
mask, like the gesture, as an outward mark of the feminized body and
its resultant stereotypes. The mask simultaneously conceals a woman's
inferiorized body and elicits a masculine desire to reveal its apposite
idealized body. Thus, the mask in the drama, in the conduct books, and
in Camden's reinscriptive comments serves as a dual signifier: woman as
inferior; woman as sexual object.
18 Sandra Lee Bartky, Femininity and Domination (New York: Routledge,
1990) . Bartky writes that "any political project which aims to
dismantle the machinery that turns a female body into a feminine one
may well be apprehended by a woman as something that threatens her with
desexualization, if not outright annihilation" (77). While Julia's
threatened loss of identity is not the result of a political project,
she is, none the less fearful of becoming a "man" because her skin is
darkening. Her loss of the feminine marker of pale, white skin signals
believes female desire is repeatedly thwarted in Jacobean
tragedy where a woman's containment is often exacerbated by
her loss of identity. The unified female subject of
"liberal-humanism" disappears as the tragic heroine
experiences a loss of the essential self. 19 I would argue,
however, that Julia as a comic heroine, fears this loss of
identity as well. Because Julia has internalized her
reputed inferior nature-displaying it through her feminine
gesturology-she, like many of her Shakespearean
counterparts, is unable to maintain her male disguise or
her female identity.
Julia also fears a permanent loss of her "lily-
tincture [d] " 20 face and of a prescribed beauty, a loss that
would seriously hamper her ability to win back Proteus who
desires an idealized Renaissance feminine face and body in
Silvia. Beauty, according to one conduct book, must not be
neglected, especially by women, because the
Faces of Men (especialy of Women) are
(more than any other part of the Body)
exposed to view, I will write of
Medicines which adorn that part, by
adding Comeliness and Beauty thereunto.
for her the loss of her feminine body. Perhaps this is another reason
she is so uncomfortable in her disguise.
Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama (Delhi: Oxford UP, 1992)
20 Two Gentlemen, IV.iv.156.
Beauty is a blessing which every one
ought to preserve, and not to neglect. 21
Since fair skin was greatly admired in Elizabethan women,
the "condition of the skin was a source of anxiety to all
ladies" who were to emulate the fair-skinned, trend-setting
Queen Elizabeth. 22 Perhaps this is why one conduct book
writer says "Good, is a fairer attribute then White." 23
Yet, a woman could be both good and have the fashionable
white skin and red cheeks, according to one conduct book
author, if she exercised
her body in workes belonging to her
house, whereby she getteth a naturall
coullour, and that vertuous vermillion,
which falleth of neither with sweating,
neither with weeping, nor with
Moreover, if a woman adhered to these injunctions, her
husband, she is told, will "deny her no necessary thing
belonging to the house." 25 It appears that this is a lesson
Julia will soon learn.
21 T.K. Doctor in Physick, The Kitchin-Physician: or, A Guide for Good-
Housewives in Maintaining their Families in Health (London, 1680) 1.
22 Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, 182.
23 Richard Brathwaite, The Good Wife (London, 1619) n. pag.
24 The Court of Good Counsell (London, 1607), Chapter XII. Here, I
employ chapter numbers since the pagination is difficult to follow.
25 Court, Chapter XII.
Of far greater concern, however, is the condition of a
woman's soul reflected in her modest behavior. Women were
led to believe that, should they fail to comport themselves
appropriately, the skin pigmentation would be the least of
their concerns. One conduct book writer explains that a
woman's physiology can alter should she overexert herself
and cause her menses to cease. He claims that the
"Viragoes and virill women" who consume an overabundance of
through their heat and strength of
nature digest and consume all their
last nourishment; as Hippocrates writes
of Phaetusa, who being exiled by her
husband Pythea, her termes were
supprest, her voyce changed, and had a
beard, with a countenance like a man.
But these I judge rather to be
Anthropophage, women-eaters, than
women-breeders, because they consume
one of the principles of generation,
which gives a being to the world, viz.
the menstruous bloud. 26
Mobile women do not menstruate. As a result, they are
incapable of fulfilling their destined role as "women-
breeders" and are like men, or "Viragoes." Indeed, non-
menstruating women can become men, like the exiled
Phaetusa. What's more, they are Anthropophage, cannibals,
because their activity consumes the blood that would make
26 John Sadler, The Sick Womans Private Looking-Glasse (London, 1636)
them fertile. In other words, they eat their young. i n
Sadler's text, woman becomes the not-so-noble savage of
colonialist discourse. No wonder Julia is anxious about
her physical condition.
At the same time Julia notices her metamorphosis, she
studies Silvia's picture, comparing herself with her more
"feminine" rival. Julia realizes that, if she is to be
loved, she must initiate yet another transformation:
Come, shadow, come, and take this shadow up,
For 'tis thy rival. thou senseless form,
Thou shalt be worshiped, kiss'd, lov'd, and
ador ' d !
And, were there sense in his idolatry,
My substance should be statue in thy stead. 27
As a beautiful icon, Silvia is worshipped by Proteus.
Had Proteus read the conduct books that give men advice on
choosing a wife, he would have realized that his
"continuall heart-sore" could be comforted by "neither
curious pictures, nor coin. "28 while men are advised not tQ
choose their wives for "a fat portion, or a faire
outside...to please either their lasciuious affection, or
their couetous mind, "^ Proteus obviously eschews such
27 Two Gentlemen, IV. iv. 196-200 .
lL^Tl 3 GatakSr ' A Maria( ? e Praler > or Succinct Meditations (London,
29 Gataker, A Mariage Praier, 21.
advice. He appears to be struck by Silvia's beauty or,
more precisely, its representation. Perhaps, too, he is
calculating Silvia's potential dowry. Her father is, after
all, the Duke of Milan. Whatever his reasoning, he spurns
the faithful Julia as soon as he is out of her sight.
Julia believes that, in order to gain back Proteus 's love,
she must reconstitute herself and become a feminine
"senseless form" as well. Her ingenuity and wit may have
gotten her within close proximity of her lover, but Julia
can regain Proteus ' s affection only as a static, feminized
body. In order to be looked upon by Proteus once more,
Julia must conform to a male-desired representation of the
At the end of the play, both Julia and Silvia continue
to perform as statues as they find themselves defenseless
against Proteus' s actions. Unlike Julia's sexual desires
that had to be quelled at the onset of the play, Proteus' s
sexuality is aggressively displayed as he lunges toward his
cowering victim. Silvia's recourse is to cry to the
heavens, only to be rescued by the earth-bound Valentine
who forgives his friend as quickly as he had condemned him
for his "rude uncivil touch. "™ In an incredible display of
30 Two Gentlemen, V.iv.60,
magnanimity, Valentine offers up Silvia to Proteus. As a
result, Julia swoons and falls to the ground, a distraught
bundle of helplessness. Here, Julia's "essential feminine"
qualities surface in her bodily comportment; they cannot be
contained by her costume. Her fallen, limp body discloses
her femininity, forcing her to reveal her true identity.
After doing so, she chastises Proteus for his inconstancy.
None the less, she takes back her disingenuous lover, even
after he has as much as wished her dead 31 and attempted to
rape her rival. Revealed as a woman through her feminizing
gestures, Julia is outwitted and disempowered.
In the final scene, the women stand by silently and,
most likely, motionlessly, as they are sorted out amongst
Thurio, the Duke, Proteus, and Valentine. Already trained
to be the chaste, silent, and obedient wife of the conduct
books, Julia accepts Proteus ' s inconstancy just as Silvia
accepts Valentine's offering her up as a token of his
friendship to Proteus. Their physical passivity
demonstrates Julia's and Silvia's emotional and economic
dependence on the men who are trading them back and forth.
As their bodies tacitly agree, the women accept the men
with whom they are paired, no matter what the men's
31 Proteus, in IV.ii.102, tells Silvia, "I grant, sweet love, that I did
love a lady, But she is dead." Proteus knows otherwise.
shortcomings. A woman, one conduct book author suggests,
without a "meeke and a quiet spirit" is problematic, for
her disposition is reflected in her bodily comportment:
"And indeed what comfortable conuersation or cohabitation
can there be with one otherwise affected, with one of a
crooked and a crabbed cariage?" 32 Ju i ia ' s mobility may not
have transformed her into a man, but she must continue to
be meek, in spite of Proteus' s behavior, lest her body
contort as a result of an unruly feminine nature.
If it becomes necessary for a wife to admonish her
husband, that correction must be "gentle." She is advised
in rhymed instruction:
Do what thou canste him to allure
To seke god by godly lyueynge
And certenly thou shalt be sure
Of lyfe that is euerlastynge . 33
Another conduct book author suggests that husbands
must root out of their lives--among other things— adultery,
gambling, and drunkenness. 34 Nevertheless, if this "rooting
32 Gataker, A Mariage Praier, 20,
33 Robert Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet (London 1549) n. pag.
34 Edmund Tilney, in A Brief and Pleasant Discourse of Duties in
Marriage called...The Flower of Friendshippe (London, 1568), provides a
rather startling example of a wife who, noticing that her husband's
extra-curricular accommodations were "very homely" (139), became
concerned that some harm might befall him as a result. She disguises
herself as her husband's sister and refurbishes the harlot's home
When the husband surmises what his wife has done, he returns home
oversome by hir vertue" (139) and content to live with his spouse
out" is not entirely successful, a wife must continue to be
obedient to her recalcitrant husband, hoping her exemplary
life will reform him. A third conduct book suggests:
Now when thou arte become a wife
And hast an housbande to thy minde
Se thou prouoke him not to stryfe
Lest haply he do proue unkynde. 35
Julia must be careful not to provoke an already unstable
individual who will become her husband and from whom she
will derive her exclusive identity. And if she does not
perform her domestic functions appropriately, she will be
deemed a "bad wife," not just by her husband but by God.
God esteems a bad wife as "no Wife; yea, as no Woman; for
the same word signifieth either. 36 a "bad wife," according
to a conduct book author and God, is a wife whose "pietie,
honesty, sobriety, modesty, and wisdome are wanting. A bad
Wife is as no Wife in Gods account." 31 Worse yet, a bad
wife is "a Shadow without Substance; shee hath a Title
without Truth: She beareth the Name; but doth not the Worke
of a Wife." 36 Only a productive wife has value. While on
35 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag.
36 Thomas Gataker, "A Wife in Deed, " A Good Wife Gods Gift and A Wife
Indeed: Two Mariage Sermons, (London, 1623), 21.
37 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 6.
38 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 6.
the one hand, a wife is to be silent and gesturally-
obedient; on the other hand, she is to be continually
productive, lest she become an idol:
Surely, as St. lames saith, that Faith
without Fruits is liuelesse and dead,
as a Body without Breath: such Faith is
no Faith indeed, but a meere Carcasse
of Faith: So a Wife without Works shee
that beareth a Wiues Name, but doth not
a Wiues worke, is no Wife indeed, but a
liuelesse Image of a Wife.... 39
A wife's identity is the result of the invisible labor she
performs for her husband. Indeed, her very ontology is
attributed to her spouse:
Againe, A Wife is as a part, or a limbe
of her husband. As Children are said
to be part of their Parents; because
they haue their being originally from
them: So the Woman may well bee said to
bee a part or limbe of Man, because
shee had her beginning and her being
originally from him. 40
Having been taken from man, the only way a woman can be
made whole again is to be "as a limbe restored now and
fastned againe to him."^ Reunited to the man from whom she
purportedly originates, a woman fastens her body to her
husband's, losing herself to him. Attached to and directed
by her "host," she lives in his corporeal margins,
39 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 7.
40 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 8.
41 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 9.
paradoxically attaining her selfhood by relinquishing it.
One wonders how different this is from the bad wife who is
"a Shadow without Substance." The ideal married couple,
says one conduct book, is when "Mariage doth re-vnite"
these types of Adam and Eve and make "them both but one
Hermaphrodite." While the both become one, it is clear
from the conduct book injunctions that the husband will
rule the singular body. The final scene of Two Gentlemen
seems to bear this out.
In Twelfth Night, Viola, shipwrecked and washed onto
the shore of Illyria, believes that her brother Sebastian
has drowned and that she is alone in a strange New World.
To protect herself until she has made her "own occasion
mellow," 42 Viola asks the surviving captain of the lost ship
to conceal her identity; to introduce her to Orsino, Duke
of Illyria, as a eunuch; and to "shape [his] silence to
[her] wit." 43 Alone without a male protector, Viola must
become a man, albeit a castrated one, to survive
undefiled. 44 Olivia, recently bereft of father and brother,
42 Twelfth Night, I.ii.43.
43 Twelfth Night, I.ii.61.
44 Stephen Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl," Erotic Politics:
Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York: Routledge, 1992) 12-26.
Orgel says that Renaissance "literary heroines often disguise
themselves as males, but the transvestism is invariably represented not
withdraws emotionally from her suitor the Duke and
physically within her estate. Juxtaposed against Viola and
Olivia is Sir Toby Belch, Olivia's uncle, who refuses to
confine himself "within the modest limits of order," 45 as
Olivia's gentlewoman Maria puts it. Sir Toby never forgoes
his "quaffing and drinking" 46 while living off the largesse
of his morose niece who has been mourning her dead brother
for the past twelve months.
Viola, on the other hand, receives the Duke's
permission to be "clamorous and leap all civil bounds." 47
However, this unladylike behavior is sanctioned only when
Viola, disguised as Cesario, is wooing Olivia on the Duke's
behalf. Conduct books admonish maids and young unmarried
women 48 to restrain themselves from such physicality. In
order to maintain a good reputation, maids must
refrain themselves from keeping company
with light, vain, and wanton persons,
whose delight is in fleshly and filthy
pastimes, as singing, dancing, leaping,
as a provocation but as a protection, and, more strikingly, as an index
to virtue, a way for women to live or travel in safety" (18).
45 Twelfth Night, I.iii.7-8.
46 Twelfth Night, I.iii.14.
47 Twelfth Night, I.iv.21.
48 The subtitle of Becon's The Catachism is "Of the Duty of Maids and
Young Unmarried Women," (367). Here, Becon instructs women to behave
in much the same manner as wives, obviously in preparation for their
skipping, playing, kissing, whoring,
So abhorrent to this author are the acts of "leaping" and
"skipping," that he includes them in a series of verbs
concluded by "whoring." One conduct book concludes, "It is
no hard thing to gather the disposition of our heart, by
the dimension of our gate." 50 A woman's gait facilely
publishes her innermost thoughts as the "tinkling of the
feet" indicates "light thoughts" while a "jetting and
strutting pace" displays a "hauty and selfe-conceited
minde." 51 Indeed, wanton bodies display folly so openly
that it is "as if [women] had transparant bodies." 52
Juxtaposed against active, wanton bodies, is the
female domesticated body whose duties are clearly
delineated as those that do not require exertion, just time
and enclosure within the home. One conduct book author
49 Becon, The Catachism, 368. Barnebie Rich, in The Honestie of this
Age (London, 1614), writes that "Licurgus ordayned the Laconian women
the exercise of their limmes, as running, leaping, wrastling, heauing,
and throwing of waights." However, he is using this as a comparison to
the women of his times who he says are "trained vp in Idlenesse, in
ignorance, in pride, in delicacy" and who will, as a result bear weak
children. The Laconian women, of the other hand, used exercise to
"increase their vigor and strength, that their propagation and ofspring
might be the more strong and sturdie" (49). Rich permits exercise only
in the context of woman's role as propagator.
50 Richard Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631) 82.
51 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 82.
52 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 82.
says that Solomon's mother advised her son to seek a wife
who could employ the needle and the spindle to make her
husband's, her children's, and her own apparel. In
contrast to such a model are the Benjaminite women who
"came out piping and dancing" and who were the antithesis
of a good wife. 53 The good wife does sedentary work within
her domicile; she does not dance, she spins. 54 Clearly,
Viola's excessive motions will cease once she marries the
Viola's leaping reflects the masculine authority
bestowed upon her as the Duke's page commissioned by her
Therefore, good youth, address thy
gait unto her;
53 Gataker, in A Mariage Praier, bases his conclusion on the biblical
story found in Genesis 24: 12-14 in which Abraham's servant Eleazer
seeks a wife for Abraham's son, Jacob. Gataker' s subheading reads,
"Housewifely offices are not disgrace to any woman," and he supports
this supposition with the fact that Eleazer found Jacob's future wife,
Rachel, drawing water for her father's sheep. Her father Laban was a
prosperous sheepherder. Likewise, Moses found the Prince of Midian's
daughters performing the same task. Even though these women came from
well-to-do families, their menial labor was not considered a disgrace.
In fact, Gataker argues, such work is "a grace and a credit" for a
woman (18). The Office of Christian Parents (1616) poses a similar
argument. The anonymous author writes that all properly-raised
daughters must be trained so "they shall see further into their
natures, and more easily learne what need they haue of marriage" (139) .
Indeed, even King David's daughter "could handle the frying pan" (139).
54 According to Gataker, in A Mariage Praier, even the great Ceasar
Augustus wore apparel exclusively "made in his owne house by his wife,
his sister, his daughter, and his neeces among them" (18). A woman's
"trade" and the "end of her creation" is "to be an assistant and an
helper vnto him, in the managing of such domesticall and houshold
affaires" (19) .
Be not denied access, stand at her
And tell them, there thy fixed foot
Till thou have audience. 55
As a man, Viola can employ an authoritative gait and sense
of determination to proclaim both the Duke's love and his
male supremacy. Ironically, the Duke believes that because
"all is semblative a woman's part," 56 in Viola/Cesario, his
youthful nuncio will be able to act out the Duke's lovesick
While the cross-dressed Viola appears "saucy at
[Olivia's] gates," 57 her masculine bravado is quickly
deflated by her feminine tongue that "speaks very
shrewishly. " 58 Assuredly, the audience is reminded that the
young messenger is a female character in disguise. More
importantly, however, the spectators are apprised of the
character's gender through a pronouncement of her
stereotypically feminine qualities. As the disguised Viola
discusses her father's daughter, she tells the Duke that
her love caused her to sit "like Patience on a monument,
55 Twelfth Night, I. iv. 15-17.
56 Twelfth Night, I.iv.34.
57 Twelfth Night, I. v. 193.
58 Twelfth Night, I. v. 157.
Smiling at grief." 59 As a woman, Viola, like Patience, must
passively accept her fate and transform her body into
stone, lest she be labeled a "shrew."
Maria, unlike Olivia, circulates freely throughout the
community, and, unlike Viola, need not be cross-dressed to
accomplish this. Apparently Sir Toby, who claims he could
"marry this wench for this device," 60 [her clever duping of
Malvolio with her plagarized letter] , is attracted to Maria
for her wit not for her "shamefast" behavior. She is the
antithesis of the Sara of the Latin Vulgate who, before she
married Tobias, "gave herself busily unto prayer, insomuch
that we read, that at a certain time she went up into an
high chamber of her father's house, and there continued in
prayer unto God...." 61 While Sir Toby admires Maria for her
wit, he undermines the compliment by demonizing her for it
as well: "To the gates of Tartar, thou most excellent
devil of wit!" 62 Maria is treading on dangerous ground
since she both speaks and acts independently.
If a young woman behave too independently, circulating
freely outside of her domestic sphere, she risks suffering
59 Twelfth Night, II . iv. 114-15 .
60 Twelfth Night, II. v. 178.
61 Becon, The Catachism, 367.
62 Twelfth Night, II. v. 201.
the same fate as Jacob's daughter Dina in Genesis who was
raped by her brother. For, as one conduct book author
Lastly, wee call the wife Huswife, that
is, house-wife, not a street-wife, one
that gaddeth vp and downe, like Tamer:
nor a fieldwife, like Dinah, but a
housewife: to shew that a good wife,
keepes her house, and therefore Paul
biddeth Titus, to exhort women that
they bee chaste, and keeping at home:
presently after chaste, hee saith,
keeping at home: as though home were
chastities keeper. 63
To keep a maid's passions from kindling and her body "low,"
she should maintain a moderate diet through drinking "pure
water, or else thin ale, or small beer" and maintaining a
"slender, simple, and homely diet." 64 Such a diet reflects
the requirements for a maid's chaste behavior, physical
size, and bodily proximity. A spare diet not only quenches
a woman's sexual desire, it also prolongs life: "Yea,
abstinence auaileth much for preseruing health of body and
length of life." 65 While a spare diet is supposedly
healthy, it also diminishes a woman's body, reducing the
amount of space it occupies. Paradoxically, while sexual
63 Robert Cleaver. A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement
(London, 1598), 218.
64 Becon, The Catachism, 369 (emphasis mine) .
65 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 140.
abstinence preserves a virgin's good health, the opposite
obtains for a married woman. She is to be fruitful and
multiply to enjoy longevity. 66 Of course, the opposite was
often the case. Women often died from complication due to
childbirth, and were well aware of the risks involved. 67
As Viola continues to circulate between the Duke's and
Olivia's residences, she rehearses her womanhood for the
benefit of the audience. Fearful she will be forced to
take part in a duel with Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Viola prays
that God will defend her against her opponent. She
proclaims, "A little thing would make me tell them how much
I lack of a man." 68 Although she imitates her brother in
dress, her empty codpiece belies Viola's "lack" as she
cowers from battle. Her twin brother, identical in stature
to Viola, having been mistaken for her, displays no fear
when he is drawn into battle against Sir Andrew. Sebastian
strikes his opponent and then draws his dagger only to be
66 Nicholas Fontanus, The Momans Doctour: or an Exact and Distinct
Explanation of all such Diseases as are Peculiar to that Sex (London:
67 See Patricia Crawford, "The Construction and Experience of Maternity
in Seventeenth-Century England," 3-38 and Linda Pollock, "Embarking on
a Rough Passage: the Experience of Pregnancy in Early-Modern Society,"
39-67. Both articles are in Women as Mothers in Pre-Industrial
England: Essays in Memory of Dorothy McLaren, ed. Valerie Fildes (New
York: Routledge, 1990) .
68 Twelfth Night, III . iv. 302-03 .
restrained by Sir Toby. When Sebastian breaks loose, he
draws his sword and challenges Sir Toby to a duel. One
could argue that Sir Andrew is no braver than Viola, and
this is true. Sir Andrew, however, is presented as a poor
excuse for a man; he is stupid, bungling, inarticulate, and
physically inept. The important comparison, however, is
between the apparently identical twins whose physical
appearance confuses everyone in the play. Viola, even
though in the guise of a man, is marked and delimited by
her feminine gesturology. She sits stone-like,
contemplating her love for the Duke and cowers in fear when
challenged to a duel. Her disguise may have won her some
authority, but her comportment underscores her feminine
need for masculine protection. Sebastian, on the other
hand, is undaunted by either Sir Andrew or Sir Toby as he
confidently swaggers about his physical space, drawing
weapons and issuing counter-challenges.
Olivia, too, comports herself like a woman, and it is
her carriage that marks her sanity. Olivia, having
mistaken Sebastian for Viola/Cesario, declares her love for
Sebastian and gives him a pearl as a token of her love.
Confused over Olivia's sudden declaration, Sebastian
contemplates the event:
That this may be some error, but no
Yet doth this accident and flood of
So far exceed all instance, all
That I am ready to distrust mine eyes
And wrangle with my reason that
To any other trust but that I am mad,
Or else the lady's mad. Yet, if 'twere
She could not sway her house, command
Take and give back affairs and their
With such a smooth, discreet, and
As I perceive she does. 69
Olivia is the epitome of stability; she is smooth and
discreet, unruffled as she governs her household, a
household within which she will remain once she marries
Sebastian. As one conduct books puts it:
What so euer is to be done without the
house, that belongeth to the ma[n], &
the woma[n] to studye for thinges
within to be done, and to be saued or
spent conueniently whatsoeuer he
The wyues workynge place is wythyn her
howse ther to ouersee and to set all
thinge in good order, and to beware
that nothynge be loste, seldome to go
forth, but when urge[n]t causes calle
hir forth. 70
69 Twelfth Night, IV. iii . 10-20 .
70 Heinrich Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony [Antwerp, 1541]
Both Olivia and Viola cannot but help to display the
"mettle of [their] sex," and their "soft and tender
breeding," 71 cross-dressed or not. And if a woman's
behavior is otherwise, such as Maria's, she becomes the
devil incarnate, an unnatural thing, displaced from her
"nest." Delineating spousal duties, Bullinger writes:
And as the damme kepeth the nest,
hatcheth the egges, & bringe forth the
frute, so let them bothe lerne to do of
the unreasonable fowles or bestes
created of god naturally to observe
theyr sondrye propertyes . 72
It is no mistake that Bullinger utilizes the term
"naturally" and draws an analogy from "unreasonable fowles
or bestes" to remind women of their proper physical and
social place. Because women were considered closer to
nature than men, they were deemed less rational creatures
and, like animals, required training in order to be
domesticated. Indeed, a woman could be happy only by
observing her "sondrye propertyes." Viola and Olivia
eventually go to their respective nests as the stereotyped
females enclosed by their domiciles and gesturally-obedient
bodies while Maria becomes an anathema to the men who
observe her unrestricted, circulating self.
71 Twelfth Night, V.i. 319-320.
72 Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony, Chapter 18,
Like Viola, Rosalind in Shakespeare's As You Like It
cross-dresses and engages her wit and ingenuity to procure
a husband. Like Viola, she redirects a misguided female
lover toward her "appropriate" male partner. Her disguise
also gives her license to describe women as the sex ill-
favored by Fortune and stereotypically giddy, talkative,
and weak. Like the Pharisees of the New Testament,
Rosalind as Ganymede thanks God he is not a woman "to be
touch' d with so many giddy offences as [God] hath generally
tax'd their whole sex withal." 73 The self-referential
Rosalind makes it clear that she, like Julia, is fragile
and ashamed of her transvestitism:
I could find in my heart to disgrace my
man's apparel and to cry like a woman;
but I must comfort the weaker vessel,
as doublet and hose ought to show
itself courageous to petticoat. 74
As Bartky says, female stereotypes threaten a woman's
autonomy both by their very existence and by their content.
If women become too independent, as is the potential with
Rosalind, they are denying their femininity. Their very
autonomy threatens to occlude their womanhood. 75 According
to Celia, Rosalind is playing her cross-dressed part all
As You Like It, II . ii . 34 1-43 ,
74 As You Like It, II.iv.4-7.
75 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 24.
too well: "You have simply misus'd our sex in your love
prate. We must have your doublet and hose pluck' d over
your head, and show the world what the bird hath done to
her own nest." 76 Celia criticizes Rosalind for her
misogynist statements, for "fowling" her own nest, so to
speak. Although Rosalind fears she will disgrace her
masculine apparel by crying like a woman, she also begins
to acquire the mind of a man who believes his sex is the
physically stronger and morally superior one. Rosalind
seems to be displaying what many antitheatrical writers and
conduct book authors fear: cross-dressing effects sex
change. She not only looks like a man, but she also sounds
like one as she, and many conduct book authors, reduces a
woman to her "natural," irrational state.
Rosalind finds herself in a double (t) bind: as a man,
her wit becomes misogynistic and, therefore, self-critical;
as a woman, her wit will make her an "unreasonable fowle,"
circulating beyond her nest. She comments,
Make the doors upon a woman's wit, and
it will out at the casement; shut that,
and 'twill out at the key-hole; stop
that, 'twill fly with the smoke out at
the chimney. 77
76 As You Like It, IV. i. 193-96.
77 As You Like It, IV. i. 153-54.
Implicit in this commentary is the masculine anxiety that
an articulate, clever woman cannot be contained within the
parameters of her domicile. Bird-like, or perhaps witch-
like, she will "fly" up the chimney and out of her
enclosure, threatening the status quo. As Ania Loomba
says, the roaming, moving woman is the evil woman, hence,
the witch on a broomstick. She writes,
Patriarchal thought incorporates the
possibility of female movement in order
to control it, investing women's
stability with moral values. Thus the
wandering woman is evil, and it is no
accident that witches are mobile,
riding through the air on broomsticks. 78
Furthermore, according to Rosalind, a woman uses her wit to
make her husband the fool so that she does not breed one:
"0, that woman that cannot make her fault her husband's
occasion, let her never nurse her child herself, for she
will breed it like a fool!" 79 A witty woman, then, is a
78 Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama, 74. Loomba argues that the
oppression of women creates the opposition of those very women to the
dominant ideology. There is a great deal of evidence to support active
female resistance from the Beguines of the Middle Ages to a tax revolt
led by women during the reign of Charles I. While on the one hand,
humanists believed women should be educated; on the other hand, they
tended to further restrict the roles of women within a patriarchal
society. Within these humanist prescriptions, there were enough
contradictions to clear a space for female education. As a result,
while Protestant and humanist doctrines employed logic and rational
thinking to support such issues as self-fulfillment, they
simultaneously had to justify woman's subordinate position.
Ultimately, woman is seen as duplicitous and changeable, someone who
must be kept within a patriarchal stasis.
79 As You Like It, IV. i. 165-68.
double threat to the dominant ideology for she can overstep
her delimited physical space as well as deceive masculine
authority with a "feminine" comportment. Lest the female
spectators forget, Touchstone reminds them that
transgressive women can be publicly chastised in the form
If a hart do lack a hind,
Let him seek out Rosalind.
If the cat will after kind,
So be sure will Rosalind.
Wint ' red garments must be lin'd,
So must slender Rosalind.
They that reap must sheaf and bind;
Then to cart with Rosalind. 80
Certainly, there must have been a rebellious contingent of
early modern women who refused to live by male standards,
implicit in the various "punishments" meted out to them.
One conduct book author decries the "women in this time"
who will not follow sartorial regulations. He says, "such
is their extreame rage and wilfulness." 81 But, like her
counterparts, by the conclusion of the play, Rosalind has
applied her wit to the same end: to find a husband. While
Rosalind's wit is employed as an injunction against men who
behave like Petrarchan lovesick wooers, it is also utilized
J0 As You Like It, II . ii . 99-106.
81 Edward Hake, A Touchstone for this Time Presently Declaring Such
Ruines, Enormities, and Abuses as Trouble the Churche of God (London,
1574. Norwood, NJ: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd., 1974) D4 .
to reinscribe a gendered hierarchy. Rosalind, in one of
her matchmaking enterprises, reminds Silvius of his
"lis not her glass, but you, that
And out of you she sees herself more
Than any of her lineaments can show
As many of the conduct books suggest, a wife's countenance
must be a reflection of her husband's psychological
condition. It is only by mirroring her spouse that a wife
can attain any social worth. Ruth Kelso writes, a perfect
Renaissance man achieved the "highest human powers and
graces" while the perfect woman "was the wife, married to a
man well born and virtuous," and living in his reflected
light. 83 Whether a woman is of noble birth or a member of
the peasantry, her identity inheres in her spouse's.
The mirror or "looking glass" is utilized also by
conduct book writers as a metaphor for self-examination:
"There is set downe a Paterne and a Precedent for thee.
There is a Looking Glasse for thee. ..to see thy selfe in, and
to shew thee what thou art." 84 If the viewers find
As You Like It, III . iv. 54-56 ,
83 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance (Urbana: U of
Illinois P, 1956) 78.
Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 13,
themselves "faire and comely, they might be carefull to
haue their cariage and courses correspondent...." 85 Gataker
recommends that every married woman should, "if not once a
day, or once a weeke, yet once a month at least seriously
looke her selfe in this Glasse." 86 He suggests that few
women follow this practice because they will find
themselves lacking "as that old withered Harlot" did who
"cast away her looking Glasse, because she could not
therein see her selfe such as she would." 87 Implicit in
this comment is the notion that women who refuse self-
examination are whores. Indeed, wives who do not subject
themselves to their husbands "will hardly proue Wiues;
being Mistresses (as Ierome speaketh) rather than Wiues." 88
Rosalind makes the requirement of a wife's subjection
explicit as she turns her attention to Phebe, instructing
her to display her obedience to her future husband through
But, mistress, know yourself. Down on
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good
85 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 13.
86 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 13-14
87 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 14.
88 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 14.
For I must tell you friendly in your
Sell when you can, you are not for all
Cry the man mercy; love him, take his
Foul is most foul, being foul to be a
So take her to thee, shepherd. Fare
you well. 89
Rosalind, as discussed above, also admits to her
inferior nature, using self-referentiality to undercut her
male disguise and its accompanying wit. As the weaker
vessel, she maintains a woman's stereotypical curiosity.
She is impatient with Celia, wanting to know who has carved
the love verses in the trees: "Good my complexion! Dost
thou think, /though I am caparison' d like a man, I have a
doublet/and hose in my disposition?" 90 Her essential
feminine constitution makes her naturally curious and
talkative. Although she is permitted to speak like a
"saucy lackey," it is only "under that habit" 91 as Ganymede.
Her loquacity must be contained once she sheds her
masculine garments. A woman, as one conduct book says, was
not to give "too free scope to that glibbery member." 92
89 As You Like It, II. iv. 57-63, emphasis mine.
As You Like It, III . ii . 191-93 .
91 As You Like It, II.ii.292.
92 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 89.
Furthermore, another conduct book author admonishes women
to avoid the company of "tatyllars," "babelars," or
"gossepes" because their conversation is nothing but "false
rumours," and lies. 93 Worse yet, the author warns his
female readership that these women "will teach the to paynt
thy face." 94 In other words, a woman must remain inside her
home, satisfied with the company of her husband, children,
and servants because female companions "are the deuelles
ministres/Sent to destroye all honestie." 95 It is no wonder
that Hero gives her clamorous cousin such an upbraiding.
The chaste, silent, and obedient Hero fears she will be
influenced by Rosalind's outlandish behavior, a behavior
for which women are vilified by the conduct book writers.
When Oliver presents Rosalind/Ganymede with the napkin
soaked in Orlando's blood, Rosalind swoons and Oliver
comments: "You a man? You lack a man's heart." 96 Although
Rosalind attempts to explain away her behavior as
"counterfeit," Oliver insists that her "complexion" betrays
her. Her external signifiers attest to the "true" nature
of her gender. Even if this self-referentiality uncovers a
93 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag.
94 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag.
95 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag.
96 As You Like It, IV. iii . 165-66 .
boy actor beneath the multi-layered character, it seems a
moot point in regard to a woman's stereotyped nature.
Rosalind states that "boys and women are for the most part
cattle of this color," 97 i.e., "effeminate, changeable,
longing and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow,
inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles; for every
passion something and for no passion truly anything." 98
Moreover, the very bodies of the boy actors that
represented women on the Shakespearean stage served to
further an image of a woman's body as infantilicized,
dependent, incompetent, weak, and helpless. 99
As Stephen Orgel says, "Women and children...become the
cultural metonyms for the working classes generally— all
those elements that must be controlled if the patriarchy is
to survive." 100 Sue-Ellen Case writes, "The celibacy of
this [Elizabethan] stage and the dependence of the boy
maintained the female sex object as one without any real
97 As You Like It, III . ii . 402-03 .
98 As You Like It, III . ii . 399-402 .
99 Bartky, in Femininity and Domination, discusses today's
infantilization of a woman's body. She identifies its pervasiveness
and the manner in which it creates "our enforced dependency;
manufactured incompetence; weakness and helplessness; our traditional
exclusion from many areas of adult life; the requirement not only that
we act like children, but that we look like children too — smooth, soft,
rounded, hairless and, above all, young" (39).
Orgel, Impersonations, 109.
power or danger." 101 In short, the women in dramas, whether
on paper or on the boards as boy actors, are the same
inconstant and incontinent creatures as the women in
conduct books. Because of this, the female body and its
representation in drama must be controlled. The liberty
which Celia claims she and her cousin are going to achieve
as they strike out on their own is short-lived and will be
surrendered in marriage for their own well-being.
Unlike many of her counterparts, Portia, in The
Merchant of Venice does not utilize her masculine disguise
to be near her future spouse. Already married and in the
guise of a lawyer, she employs her clever rhetoric to
literally save the skin of her husband's dearest friend
Antonio. Portia is obviously less physically confined than
Jessica, Shylock's daughter, as she travels freely from her
home in Belmont to seek legal advice and then to appear in
a Venetian court on Antonio's behalf. However, she is no
less governed by her father than is Jessica. In fact,
while Portia accepts her deceased father's stipulations for
procuring her a spouse, Jessica rebels against her living
father's injunctions. Disguised as a torchbearer, Jessica
seizes her own dowry by absconding with a casket of
101 Case, Feminism and Theatre, 27.
Shylock's jewels and elopes with a Christian, denouncing
her Jewish faith. Indeed Jessica has jeopardized her life,
infuriating her father to the point that he wishes her
dead. This, one would think, is a gutsy woman who has
fearlessly outwitted the sly Shylock. Yet this devil-may-
care behavior is mitigated by Jessica's sartorial shame as
she gestures toward her abashment, confessing to Lorenzo:
I am glad 'tis night, you do not look
For I am much asham'd of my exchange.
But love is blind, and lovers cannot
The pretty follies that themselves
For if they could, Cupid himself would
To see me thus transformed to a boy. 102
While making reference to Cupid's response to her
transvestitism, Jessica herself displays her instilled
shame by wearing the obligatory maidenly blush, the facial
expression that signifies a maiden's "shamefastedness . "
According to one conduct book author,
A womans blush is a signe of
grace, and a good woman will guickly
blush at many thinges; nay it were
enough to make a vertuous woman to
blush, but to thinke with her selfe
that shee could not blush.
The blush of a womans face is an
approbation of a chast and honest mind,
and a manifest signe that shee doth not
The Merchant of Venice, II. vi. 36-40.
approue any intemperate actions, or any
other wanton speeches or demeanors that
are eyther offered to her selfe, or to
any other in her presence.
The woman that forgetteth to
blush, it is an argument that shee is
past grace; for shamefastnesse is not
onely a brydle to sinne, but it is
likewise the common treasury of
feminine Vertue. 103
Yet, in spite of her signifier of shame and sexual
continence, Shylock verbally strikes down his daughter and,
enclosing her in a casket with his stolen fortune, seals
her off from any further disobedience: "I would my
daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!
Would she were hears ' d at my foot, and the ducats in her
coffin!" 104 Jessica becomes the dutiful daughter in her
father's mind only when she is lying inert beneath
Shylock 1 s powerful foot. Portia, too, in spite of her
apparent freedom, is "lock'd in" 105 a casket, reduced to an
icon, and controlled by her father's plan for choosing her
spouse. What she believes to be her "worthless self" 106 is
ruled from her father's juridical grave and by a gendered
103 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 48.
104 Merchant, III. i. 83-85.
105 Merchant, II.ii.40.
106 Merchant, II.ix.17.
hierarchy that produces shame in woman for their inherent
Portia briefly entertains the thought of subverting
her father's plan by covertly teaching Bassanio "how to
choose right." 107 Yet, she fears disregarding her father's
injunctions and risking eternal punishment for "rigging"
the game of caskets: "Let fortune go to hell for it, not
I." 108 Always under the Holy Gaze, Portia believes
daughterly disobedience will result in eternal damnation.
She submits to both her earthly and heavenly fathers as
well as her husband. When Portia declares her love for
Bassanio, she alludes to her gestural obedience and wifely
submission, should her lover choose the correct casket:
He may win;
And what is music then? Then music is
Even as the flourish when true subjects
To a new-crowned monarch. 109
The correct choice made, Portia quickly "bows" herself and
her estate to her future spouse. As the conduct books make
clear, a wife's body and goods are her husband's:
Yf the wyfe be ryche and the husbande
poore, then let not the wyfe boast hir
ryches agaynst the husbande, but
107 Merchant, III.ii.ll.
108 Merchant, III.ii.21.
109 Merchant, III . ii . 48-50 ,
consydre, that thorow mariage, hir
goodes are become hir husba[n]ds also
for mariage is a mutuall felauship &
partakyng of all thinges. The body
lykesyse is more of value then the
goodes. Seynge, then that thy body is
thy husbandes, much more are thy goodes
Not long after, the news of Antonio's turn of fortune sends
Bassanio packing and Portia on her errand of mercy.
Disguised as a man, as is Nerissa, and hiding her "lack," 111
Portia will alter her stride and behave like the youthful,
lying braggarts whose charms have caused many a lady,
unrequited of their love, to fall sick and die:
When we are both accoutred like young
I'll prove the prettier fellow of the
And wear my dagger with the braver
And speak between the change of man and
With a reed voice, and turn two mincing
Into a manly stride, and speak of frays
Like a fine bragging youth, and tell
How honorable ladies sought my love,
Which, I denying, they fell sick and
I could not do withal! 112
Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony, Chapter 18.
111 Merchant, III.iv.62.
112 Merchant, III . iv. 63-72 .
While Portia's long masculine stride serves to uphold
her disguise, her words strike women down, sending them to
their sickbeds and caskets, as they are physically and
ideologically positioned beneath the masculine and
simultaneously enclosed, in her metaphors or on their
biers. Even though Portia utilizes her wit and "manly
stride" to save her husband's dearest friend, she does so
in the guise of a man. Disguised or not, this is a wife's
proper behavior. One conduct book writer praises his wife,
who died in childbirth, for her
True loue and loyaltie to her husband,
& his friends, she was (let me speake
it without offence) I thinke, the
rarest Paragon in the world: for she
was so far of from disswading her
husba[n]d to be beneficiall to his
friends, that she wold rather perswade
him to be more beneficial to them. 113
Furthermore, Portia's bold steps 114 are permitted only as
she is cross-dressed and only as she sacrifices herself for
the sake of her husband's male compatriot. In turn, both
husbands are willing to sacrifice their wives in order to
Phillip Stubbes, in A Christal Glasse for Christian Women (London,
1592), praises his deceased wife Katherine because "her whole delight
was to be conuersant in the Scriptures" (3), the understanding of which
she sought from her husband; for her gentle nature; her silence; and
for her refusal to leave her house, "except her husband were in
companie" (3) .
Case, in Feminism and Theatre, writes, "Stage movement replicates
the proxemics of the social order, capitalizing upon the spatial
relationships in the culture at large between women and the sites of
power" (118) .
save Antonio's life. If the death of a wife could release
Antonio from his lethal bond to Shylock, then Bassanio
would sacrifice his spouse to the devil Shylock. He
Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is as dear to me as life itself;
But life itself, my wife, and all the
Are not with me esteem' d above thy
I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them
Here to this devil, to deliver you. 115
The more merciful Gratiano would forfeit his wife to
I have a wife, who, I protest, I love;
I would she were in heaven, so she
Entreat some power to change this
currish Jew. 116
Even before these declarations, however, the willing Portia
has consecrated herself as the sacrificial virgin.
Anticipating Bassanio 's casket choosing, she says, "I stand
for sacrifice." 117 Passively awaiting her fate, Portia
"stands" in or represents woman as sacrificial victim. As
one conduct book author promises:
115 Merchant, IV. i. 280-85.
116 Merchant, IV. i. 288-90.
117 Merchant, III.ii.57.
Therefore loue your husbandes heere,
and if they reward it not, it shall bee
rewarded in Heauen, bee obedient to
them heere, and yee shall bee made
equall with them in Heauen: bee humble
and lowly heere, and yee shall bee
exalted in Heauen, be clothed with
modesty here, and yee shall bee clothed
with honour in Heauen, bee patient
heere, and yee shall be crowned with
glorie in Heauen, and as heere for your
bettring you did turne one into two, so
there for your further bettring you
shall turne two into one, and haue
vnitie and societie with Christ for
euer . 118
Granted, Portia's legal maneuvers release Antonio from
Shylock's whetted knife, but her wit has served its purpose
and must be disengaged if she is to be a "good wife." One
conduct book writer says a wife should not have wit, but
A passiue understanding to conceiue,
And Iudgement to discerne, I wish to
Beyond that, all as hazardous I leaue;
Learning, and pregnant wit in Woman-
What it findes malleable, maketh
And doth not adde more ballast,
but more saile. 119
Portia's wit and salvific powers are short-lived, for her
own well-being. She returns to Belmont to place herself
beneath the rule of her husband where, according to the
118 Francis Meres, Gods Arithmeticke (London, 1597), n. pag.
119 Brathwaite, The Good Wife, n. pag.
conduct books, her own salvation is reliant upon her
measured performance as a "good wife." No longer appealing
for a verdict from an earthly arbiter, Portia patiently
awaits a decision from the "great Judge." 120
One conduct book author advises his readership to
Do what thou canste him to allure
To seke god by godly lyueyng
And certenly thou shalt be sure
Of lyfe that is euerlastynge . 121
A woman must not forget that she bears the burden of her
For though the fyrste woman did fall
And was the chiefe occasion
That synne hath pearced through us all
Yet shalt thou haue salluation. 122
As the conduct books continually rehearse, this salvation
is contingent upon a woman's obedience to her husband as
she "dydste vow." 123
Diane Bornstein writes:
If we wish to look to Shakespeare's
plays for models [of the ideal woman],
we could say that the ideal Renaissance
lady was not the bold Rosalind of As
According to Philip Stubbes, in A Christal Glasse for Christian
Women (London, 1591) A4, this is the name his pious wife Katherine
attributed to God while she was languishing on her deathbed.
121 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag.
122 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag.
123 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag.
You like It or the ingenious Portia of
The Merchant of Venice, but the
retiring Hermione of The Winter's
Tale. 12 *
While I would agree with Bornstein's evaluation of
Hermione, I believe that Rosalind and Portia, as well as
Julia and Viola are "bold" and "ingenious" but briefly.
Moreover, their feminine gesturology belies their moments
of power as they punctuate their swaggering with swoons and
their disguises with sartorial discomfiture. These
"plucky" women willingly relinquish their doublets, "their
brief hour of freedom," 125 and their wit to their lovers.
As Ania Loomba argues of Rosalind, Viola, and Portia,
even though these women are the most mobile of Renaissance
female characters, they remain fixed within the dominant
ideology. Shakespearean female characters may temporarily
transgress conduct book codes by stepping into male roles,
but they eventually comply with patriarchal desire,
remaining chaste until they marry suitable lovers. 126
• 24 Diane Bornstein, introduction, Distaves and Dames: Renaissance
Treatises For and About Women, ed. by Bornstein (Delmar, NY: Scholars'
Facsimiles & Reprints, 1978), xx.
125 D. E. Underdown, "The Taming of the Scold: the Enforcement of
Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England," Order and Disorder in
Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP) 116-36. Underdown
believes that both Shakespeare and his audience knew the independent
female characters while "sometimes portrayed sympathetically" would
ultimately "submit to their proper wifely roles" within the
"traditional order" (117).
126 Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama.
Although each cross-dressed heroine, in varying
degrees of intensity, interrogates the gendered hierarchy,
their sartorial slippage never occludes their identity as
fragile female characters who must ultimately relinguish
any authority their guises have temporarily procured.
Their practiced gestures mark them as women, disallows them
to step beyond their delimiting bodies and homes, and
recuperates the status quo. As Shapiro suggests, while the
roles of cross-dressed women in plays could amplify the
actions of non-theatrical transvestite women (although
these women were performing, in a sense) who challenged
established gender roles, this challenge was undercut by
the awareness of the boy actor. 127 A woman's challenge to
the gendered hierarchy appears, at bottom, benign.
Shapiro, Gender in Play.
MASKERS, WITH VIZARDS AND SEMBLANCES
It would appear that audiences eventually were sated
with Shakespeare's benign heroines and desired a
"naughtier" female character who dared to display her wit,
often undisguised and always undisciplined. These new
heroines are, however, at last kept in their place,
censured not only by the opposite sex but also, and I think
more importantly, by their own. Beatrice, in Much Ado
About Nothing, seems to be Shakespeare's most assertive
heroine who does not cross-dress. Perhaps this is why her
wit brings condemnation on her head not only from the men
in the drama but also from her cousin Hero, an exemplar of
the silent and chaste conduct-book woman. As one conduct
book writer says of a "A good Woman": sometimes in a
pleasant discontent shee dares chide her Sex, though shee
vse it neuer the worse." 1
Admittedly Hero, along with Ursula, is plotting to
ensnare Beatrice into falling in love with Benedick. As a
result, Hero's chastisement of her cousin requires some
exaggeration. Nevertheless, the love trap creates an
opportunity for an outspoken woman to be reprimanded by her
"own kind, " women who appear all the more complicit with
1 Richard Brathwaite, The Good Wife (London, 1619), n.pag.
conduct book guidelines that formulate the ideal wife.
Apparently distraught with her cousin's unseemly behavior,
But Nature never fram'd a woman's heart
Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice.
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her
Misprising what they look on, and her
Values itself so highly that to her
All matter else seems weak. She cannot
Nor take no shape nor project of
She is so self-endeared. 2
A woman with wit, says Hero, is unable to love.
Exaggerated or not, Hero's language endorses the masculine
doctrine that marks assertive women as problematic and
"unfeminine. " Ursula, although coming to Beatrice's
defense, assumes that Beatrice will use her wit
appropriately—to procure a husband:
0, do not do your cousin such a wrong!
She cannot be so much without true
Having so swift and excellent a wit
As she is priz'd to have--as to refuse
So rare a gentleman as Signior
While Ursula's rhetoric is meant to defend Beatrice, her
assumption supports the notion that a woman's destiny is
2 Much Ado About Nothing, III. i. 50-55. All quotations from Shakespeare
are from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington.
(Glenview, ILL: Scott, Foresman, 1980.)
3 Much Ado, I I I. i.8 6-90.
domesticity. Disguised or not, a comic heroine employs her
wit and intellect to find a mate. Phyllis Rackin writes
that marriage in Shakespeare's comedies is represented by
the ideal nuclear family of the middling sort. 4 Although
the comic heroines appear to come from upper-class
families, their behavior affirms the family ideology
inherent in conduct books targeted at the women of the
Beatrice is eventually "lim'd," trapped like a bird,
allowing herself to be "tamed" beneath Benedick's
What fire is in mine ears? Can this be
Stand I condemn 'd for pride and scorn
Contempt, farewell, and maiden pride,
No glory lives behind the back of such.
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite
Taming my wild heart to thy loving
^ Phyllis Rackin, "Foreign Country: The Place of Women and Sexuality in
Shakespeare's Historical World," Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property,
and Culture in Early Modern England, ed. Richard Burt and John Michael
Archer (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994), 68-95. Rackin discusses how
differently Shakespeare's comedies and histories represented marriage.
She writes, "The comedies look forward to the emergent bourgeois ideal
of the loving nuclear family, but the histories look backward to an
older conception of marriage as a political and economic union between
feudal families..." (79) . According to Sue-Ellen Case, in Feminism and
Theatre (New York: Methuen, 1988), marriage as dramatic resolution is
evidenced much earlier in Athenian drama. In The Eumenides , the third
play of The Oresteia, the Furies receive a new vocation presiding over
marriages. Case writes, "This ending can be seen as paradigmatic of
future plot structures in the Western play-writing tradition. A great
many plays in the tradition resolve various kinds of civic, historical
and psychological problems with the institution of marriage. The
proper gender role for women is inscribed in this conclusion" (15).
If thou dost love, my kindness shall
To bind our loves up in a holy band;
For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly. 5
Conduct books make it clear that a loving hand,
however, can be used by a husband to discipline a "froward"
and contrary wife if she refuses taming: "Some [wives] had
rather haue theyr back full of strypes, then to holde theyr
tonge and forbeare a litle." 6 Unlike her cousin, Hero has
never required "taming." Yet, in spite of her
appropriately feminine comportment, Hero falls victim to a
devious plan that impugns her honor and forces her to play
dead. When Claudio accuses his fiancee of inconstancy, he
employs the outward sign of the blush, ironically meant to
signify her chastity, to malign her reputation:
She's but the sign and semblance of her honor.
Behold how like a maid she blushes here!
0, what authority and show of truth
Can cunning sin cover itself withal!
Comes not that blood as modest evidence
To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear,
All you that see her, that she were a maid,
By these exterior shows? But she is none:
She knows the heart of a luxurious bed;
Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty. 7
Neither her blush nor her "outward graces" 8 are
sufficient to refute the charges against Hero's
5 Much Ado, III. i. 107-116
6 Heinrich Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony [Antwerp, 154 i;
Chapter 18, n. pag.
7 Much Ado, IV. i. 32-41.
8 Much Ado, IV. i. 100.
"misgovernment" of her body. Indeed, the "sign and
semblance" of her blush can be interpreted however her
fiance chooses. Like Julia and Rosalind, Hero has no
control over her body or the reading of its signs. To
emphasize this, she sinks into a swoon, connoting her
dependent female nature.
The Friar, however, reads Hero's blushes otherwise,
A thousand blushing apparitions
To start into her face, a thousand innocent
In angel whiteness beat away those blushes,
And in her eye there hath appear ' d a fire
To burn the errors that these princes hold
Against her maiden truth. 9
Notwithstanding such a reading, Hero receives no such
certification from her father or fiance and must,
therefore, be "killed off" and contained in an imaginary
grave. Claudio's jewel has lost its luster. 10 As one
conduct book writer makes clear:
A good wife is well worth the seeking
after. A long iourney taken fro such
one is well undertaken. We see how
farre men travell to fetch Pearles and
Diamonds; how much more for one that is
of more value than either? 11
9 Much Ado, IV. i. 158-163.
10 When Claudio initially avows his love for Hero, he asks Benedick,
"Can the world buy such a jewel?" Benedick replies, "yea, and a case
to put it into." Much Ado, I. i. 174-75.
11 Thomas Gataker, A Mariage Praier, or Succinct Meditations (London,
Devalued jewel or unchaste woman, Hero must be figuratively
murdered and stashed away until the men can ascertain her
body's destiny. Meanwhile the Friar believes Hero's
feigned death will induce Claudio to recant his initial
reading and to decode differently Hero's material
And every lovely organ of her life
Shall come apparel 'd in more precious
More moving, delicate, and full of
Into the eye and prospect of his soul,
Than when she liv'd indeed.
In other words, Hero in death will be more appealing to the
twice-duped Claudio. Apparently, the icon the Friar
conjures of Hero's dead, static body will arouse Claudio
more than Hero's living corpus had.
In response to the slandering of her apparently-dead
cousin, Beatrice wishes that she were a man, 12 three times,
in fact. According to Kelso, the supposed desire on the
part of a woman to "be" a man was an admission of a woman's
inferior nature, a well-worn argument employed in early
modern anti-feminist discourse. 13 This "desire" of
Beatrice's is enough to convince Benedick to challenge
12 Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama (Delhi: Oxford UP,
1992) . Loomba writes that patriarchal discourses, although
heterogeneous, appear as a single, common-sense discourse; and the
women in Renaissance dramas often wish to be men or at least to have
13 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana: U of
Illinois P, 1956) 13.
Count Claudio, forcing him to render Benedick a "dear
account." 14 Benedick reasons that if Beatrice is clear-
headed enough to realize the superior nature of men, by
desiring that nature, that she is most likely correct
regarding Hero's case of slander. With the truth
discovered, the scales drop from Claudio' s eyes: "Sweet
Hero! Now thy image doth appear in the rare semblance that
I lov'd it first." 15 Killed by male slander and resurrected
by masculine "truth," Claudio rereads Hero's somatic
signifiers and re-visions her once-occluded "rare
semblance." As a result, Hero marries, and like so many
female characters before and after her, follows the rules
of the conduct books, dutifully overlooking her husband's
As Jean E. Howard writes, Claudio, the legal heir, as
opposed to his bastard brother Don John, is permitted such
behavior. It legitimizes the traditional social order and
exposes women and bastards as the inevitable source of
social disruption, 16 a disruption, I might add, that the
conduct book authors are attempting to obviate. The
appropriate hierarchical structure of the early modern
household is repeatedly modeled in conduct books whose
titles indicate that the family is to be ordered like a
14 Much Ado, IV. i. 331.
15 Much Ado, V, i. 24 5-6.
16 Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle, 61
miniature government. Within these micro-states, the
husband is the head of the household in general and his
wife in particular. Robert Cleaver, in A Codly [godly]
Form of Householde Governement (1598), writes that a wife
has three principle "duties" toward her husband. First,
she must "reuerence" him; second, she must "submit
herselfe, and be obedient vnto him"; and, third, she must
not wear attire "beyond her degree & place." 17 A woman's
attire, along with her gestures, must be "sober." Like
Hero, a wife who has been unjustly accused of an
impropiety, must forgive her erring husband and demonstrate
that forgiveness through her countenance:
And if hee shall chance to blame her
without a cause, and for that which
shee could not helpe or remedy (which
thing sometimes happeneth euen of the
best men) yet shee must beare it
patiently, and giue him no vncomely or
vnkinde words for it: but euermore
looke vppon him, with a louing and
chearefull countenance, and so rather
let her take the fault vppon her, then
seeme to bee displeased. 18
Furthermore, a wife must demonstrate her submissive role,
even in the light of her husband's inappropriate behavior
(it happens to the best of them, the conduct books report)
with her body:
17 Robert Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement
(London, 1598) 213.
18 Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement, 214.
Let her bee always merry and chearefull
in his company, but yet not with too
much lightnesse. Shee must beware in
any wise of swelling, powting, lowring,
or frowning, for that is a token of a
cruell, and vnlouing heart, except it
bee in respect of sinne, or in time of
sicknesse . 19
Perhaps, Beatrice, seeing her cousin's dreadful plight,
rethinks her own behavior. One conduct book says that a
woman of a suspected Chastitie, liueth
but in a miserable case, and when shee
beareth other women ill spoken of, let
her thinke in her minde, what may be
spoken of her, imagining with herselfe;
that when a woman is once in an ill
name, whether it be deseruedly, or
without cause, she hath much adoe to
recouer again her honour.... 20
Beatrice has witnessed first-hand the dreadful consequences
of a woman falsely accused of sexual incontinence. Her
sudden transformation of character may not be the result
entirely of her affection for Benedick. Perhaps Beatrice
realizes she must carry her body more appropriately,
avoiding the harsh criticism Hero suffered, as far as we
know, undeservedly. If the conduct book model of a woman
can be unjustly slandered, what can happen to the woman who
refuses such a paradigm? "Chastity, " says one conduct book
author, "joyned with vanity, deserueth no commendations at
all." 21 Beatrice realizes her reputation and, indeed, her
19 Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement, 214.
20 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter IX, n. pag., emphasis mine.
21 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter X, n. pag.
life, rest in the hands of men. One conduct book
emphasizes the precarious position in which a woman finds
herself and her "name":
To keep their Name, when 'tis in others
Discretion askes; their Credit is by
More fraile then They; on likely-hoods
And hard to be disprou'd, Lusts
Their Carriage, not their
Must keepe their Name chaste from
A woman's "name" is more frangible than her material body,
and her honor rests on how successfully she carries that
body. Therefore, she must regard her gestures with utmost
care. If slandered, a woman has no insurance against false
accusations. Knowing Hero's plight in that regard,
Beatrice alters her carriage and subdues her tongue to
mirror her reformation.
Like Beatrice, Kate, in The Taming of the Shrew,
ultimately will adhere to the silent language of
submission. To that end, the audience/reader is reminded
in the opening scene that a submissive wife is marked by
her restrained comportment. The Lord instructs his page
Barthol'mew to deceive Sly into believing Barthol'mew is
his wife. He assigns the players the task of instructing
Barthol'mew to perform like a lady
22 Brathwaite, The Good Wife, n. pag.
With soft low tongue and lowly
And say, "What is 't your honor will
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her
And then with kind embracements,
And with declining head into his bosom,
Bid him shed tears, as being overjoyed
To see her noble lord restor'd to
The Lord is convinced that his page "will well usurp the
grace, Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman." 24 Yet,
almost as soon as the inset play begins, the audience is
apprised of what constitutes the very antithesis of that
"gentlewoman." Gremio makes it clear to Baptista that he
is not interested in marrying Baptista' s elder daughter
Katharina who is "too rough" and who needs to be carted
rather than courted. Like Rosalind, Kate's disorderly
behavior potentially subjects her to public chastisement
and ridicule. Because of her refusal to comport herself as
the conduct books suggest, Kate is vilified by masculine
Hortensio: From all such devils, good
Lord deliver us!
Gremio: And me too, good Lord!
Tranio: Husht, master! Here's some
good pastime toward. That wench is
stark mad or wonderful froward. 25
The Taming of the Shrew, induction, i. 117-27
24 Shrew, induction, i. 130-31.
25 Shrew, I. i. 66-69.
In response to Kate's abhorrent behavior, Bianca
addresses her sister and father, respectively:
Sister, content you in my discontent.
Sir, to your pleasure humbly I
My books and instruments shall be my
On them to look and practice by
In contrast to the shrewish Kate, Bianca is complicit with
her own enclosure, even though she admits her "discontent."
As one of her suitors, Hortensio says, Bianca is his
treasure who has submitted herself to the patriarchal
[Baptista] hath the jewel of my life in
His youngest daughter, beautiful
And her withholds from me and other
The scene in which Kate has Bianca' s hands tied, only
reaffirms Bianca' s willing submission, as she states, "So
well I know my duty to my elders." 28 Bianca ' s dutiful
behavior and submissive demeanor, signified by her bound
hands, endears her father to her while inciting jealousy
and further rebellion in Kate. As Baptista hires tutors to
train his daughters for marriage, Bianca alone responds to
the lessons. Kate, in fact, strikes Hortensio on the head
26 Shrew, I. i. 80-83.
27 Shrew, I. ii. 117-19.
Shrew, II. i. 7
with her lute, refusing his instruction. While Bianca is
content with her books and musical instruments, Kate is
averse to being "trained up" for marriage. Both playing an
instrument and plying the needle were pastimes in in which
conduct books insisted women engage to keep themselves
busily employed. A wife, one author states, is "not to sit
alwayes ydle;" she must occupy herself with her household
duties "even in things of least importaunce, " keeping busy
"as with hir needle, and rocke." 29
In regard to the trained, docile body's continual
activity, Foucault states,
Time measured and paid must also be a
time without impurities or defects; a
time of good quality, throughout which
the body is constantly applied to its
exercise. Precision and application
are, with regularity, the fundamental
virtues of disciplinary time. 30
Keeping busy was as important it seems as being productive.
A woman could not let a minute be "mis-spended" as she
plied her needle or engaged in "any other manuall
employment." She was to "chuse rather with Penelope to
weaue and vnweaue, than to giue Idlenesse the least
leaue." 31 Although the pastimes of needlework, scripture
reading, and playing music kept a woman busy, they also
29 Edmund Tilney, The Flower of Friendship (London, 1568) 137.
30 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,
trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979) 151.
31 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, (London, 1631) 49.
circumscribed her within the home, seated at her "work" as
the gesturally-obedient wife.
As Gail Kern Paster has discovered, early modern
medical discourse opined that offspring of the upper class
could be impaired because their idle parents expended their
seed too frequently, thereby weakening it. 32 Since conduct
book writers were invested in producing the ideal wife of
the middling ranks of society, in apposition to the
aristocratic wife, the newly-fashioned wife of the nuclear
family was required to behave in a manner that would enable
her to reproduce the means of production through bearing
healthy children and maintaining an economically-efficient
household. Marriage, one conduct book states, is the
"first bargaine of thrift." 33
Petruchio, challenged by Kate's behavior, is confident
he can reform her. As one conduct book states, in regard
to a wife, a husband "may safely, like a tender twigg, make
her straight, if she begin to grow crooked, and with graue
admonitions reforme her wanton minde." 34 Petruchio, through
32 Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of
Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993) . See
especially Chapter 4 for a view of early modern social attitudes toward
the maternal body. Paster discusses how medical discourse manifests a
woman's pregnant body as "unclean" and "filthy." In so doing, however,
this discourse creates a paradox: while the womb is depicted as
suspect, unstable, and even a breeder of poison, metonymically
reflecting a cultural fear of parturition as maternal power, it is the
same womb that nurtures the infant upon whom patriarchy relied for its
33 The Court of Good Counsell (London, 1607), Chapter I, n. pag.
34 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter III, n. pag.
his "grave admonitions," manages to accomplish his goal.
This does not occur, however, until Kate has been deprived
of food and sleep and realizes that she has no place to go
except beneath her husband's figurative head. Moreover,
Petruchio forces Kate' s literal hand by adhering to more
conduct book advice:
In this long, and troublesome journey
of matrimonie, the wise man maye not be
contented onely with his spouses
virginitie, but by little and little
must gently procure that he maye also
steale away hir private will, and
appetite, so that of two bodies there
may be made one onelye hart.... 35
Kate breaks beneath Petruchio' s relentless tactic, deemed
appropriate and sometimes necessary by one conduct book:
If a mans horse be not exceeding gentle
and well broken, he will sure either
run out of the way, or stumble and cast
the rider. So if such a mans wife be
not more than ordinary in meekenes and
patience, she will either rebell
against him, or contemne him. 36
Moreover, if Petruchio 's initial methodology had proven
fruitless, more violent measures were available:
Wee prouender an horse as well as ship
and spurre him, else the best would
tyre: and the wife must bee animated to
good things, and not onely withdrawne
fro euill. 37
35 Tilney, The Flower, 112.
36 William Whately, A Bride-Bush, or a Wedding Sermon (London, 1617) IS
37 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 35.
Seeing that he need not be "spurred" toward further
disciplinary steps, Petruchio is pleased with his "aweful
rule, and right supremacy." 38 A husband who is able to
appropriately mold his wife, according to one conduct book,
will find "he is proud that he hath framed her with his
owne hand, to his owne hart." 39
The husband's supremacy established, a wife must learn
to keep "hand and tongue and all from disorder." 40 Inwardly
reverent, she must control her infirmities while self-
policing her every word and gesture. Even her shoulders
must be regulated: "And woe to these miserable aspiring
shoulders, that content not themselues to take their roome,
next below the head [of the husband]." 41 If a wife's body
is not controlled down to its "fingers ends," the marriage,
one conduct book author states, will be "wofull." 42
Disciplinary control does not consist
simply in teaching or imposing a series
of particular gestures; it imposes the
best relation between a gesture and the
overall position of the body, which is
38 Shrew, V.ii.lll.
39 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter IV. The anonymous author
suggests that a man marry a young woman who is more pliable than an
older, recalcitrant woman, often an embarrassment to her husband. The
author says that older women must be locked away or asked to "withdraw
themselues out of sight" (n. pag.) of her husband's company, lest the
husband be humiliated by her untoward behavior.
40 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 38.
41 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 36.
42 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 36.
its condition of efficiency and speed.
In the correct use of the body, which
makes possible a correct use of time,
nothing must remain idle or useless:
everything must be called upon to form
the support of the act required. A
well-disciplined body forms the
operational context of the slightest
If a woman is not kept from "disorder," she, like the
disruptive biblical wives Sarah, Rachel, and Michal, might
find herself left sans child or husband, a precarious
position for the early modern woman. It was essential that
a wife's outward behavior signify to her husband her inward
First, in speeches and gestures vnto
him. These must carry the stamp of
feare vpon them, and not be cutted,
sharpe, sullen, passionate, teechie;
but meeke, quiet, submissiue.... The
wiues tongue towards her husband must
bee neither keene, nor loose, her
countenance neither swelling nor
deriding; her behauiour not flinging,
not puffing, not discontented.... 44
Sounding as if she is reciting from a contemporary
conduct book, the reformed and indoctrinated Kate directs
the remaining disobedient wives in bodily conduct:
Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening
And dart not scornful glances from
To wound thy lord, thy kind, thy
43 Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 152,
44 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 38.
Kate demonstrates how feminine gesturology becomes the
material manifestation of the dominant ideology that
positions the woman beneath man, ideologically and
spatially. She tells her women onlookers that instead of
seeking war with their spouses, they should "kneel for
peace." 46 After all, she questions, should not women's
"soft conditions and [their] hearts. ..well agree with [their]
external parts?" 47 Finally, she implies, there is little
choice left to women anyway since their words and frowns
are mere "straws." Consequently, the enlightened Kate
directs her sister Bianca and a nameless widow in
appropriate feminine gestures:
And place your hands below your
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready; may it do him ease. 48
Kate repents of her shrewishness and becomes a conduct book
model of the ideal wife. Her practiced carriage, etched in
the mise-en-scene of her bowing before her husband, is as
demeaning a construction as her initial depiction as shrew.
In fact, it is more demeaning. Kate has run the gamut of
female stereotypes, registering herself at its extreme
45 Shrew, V. ii . 138-140 .
46 Shrew, V.ii.164 .
47 Shrew, V.ii. 169-70.
48 Shrew, V. ii . 179-181 ,
ends. In this play in particular, the image of the ideal
early modern woman is keenly focused through the conduct
book, lens and projected onto the Shakespearean stage.
Though Kate enjoys her transient moment of social
disruption, she is, interestingly, presented as an
"unadulterated," chaste woman. Kate may be demonized for
her aggressive nature, but she is never "whored." Dekker
and Middleton, however, create a female character whose
uncertain morality titillates her Jacobean audience. Moll,
the eponymous hero of The Roaring Girl, transgresses the
conduct book code of femininity through her dressing like a
man and her freely wandering the streets of London as an
unmarried woman. Unlike her Shakespearean counterparts,
Moll is not cross-dressed to preserve her honor while
searching for her lost lover. While she keeps busy down to
her fingertips, her hands are engaged neither in housework
nor in needlepoint. Instead, one would guess they are
occupied in filching other people's property, hence the
name "Moll Cutpurse." The drama does not produce any
evidence to identify Moll as a thief; however, it does
associate her with a crowd of thieves. Jean E. Howard,
although she concludes Moll is "no thief," points out that
she "knows all the lowlife types of London and knows their
canting jargon, their thieving tricks. "«9 To enhance Moll's
eschewal of a prescribed "feminine" paradigm, she plays a
viol, certainly not an instrument conduct books deem
appropriate for a woman. 50
Turning our attention for a moment to Middleton's A
Chaste Maid in Cheapside, we see how Mrs. Yellowhammer, a
citizen's wife, attempts to train her daughter-another
Moll-in the skills that will shape her into a marketable
commodity, especially in the eyes of the supposedly wealthy
Sir Walter Whorehound. Margaret Hallissy suggests that in
spite of women becoming craftwomen and "gradually being
caught up in the rising tide of technology and capitalism-
marriage was still the ground base. ..of womanly success." 51
And, conduct books were the texts from which young women
like Moll Yellowhammer would have acquired the skills that
would attract a desirable husband. Mrs. Yellowhammer asks
Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England
(New York: Routledge, 1994) 126.
50 Stephen Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl," Erotic Politics:
Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York: Routledge, 1992). Orgel
quotes from the Consistory of London Correction, fols 19-20, describing
a court appearance at which "Mary Frith, alias Moll Cutpurse, the
original of Middleton's and Dekker' s The Roaring Girl, was brought
before the ecclesiastical court to answer charges of public immorality"
(12). Moll was cross-dressed at the Fortune Theater where she played a
lute, not a viola da gamba.
51 Margaret Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows:
Chaucer's Women and Medieval Codes of Conduct (Westport, CT: Greenwood
P, 1993) 18.
her daughter, "Have you play'd over all your old lessons 0'
the virginals?"52 The sexual innuendo aside, Moll
Yellowhammer plays an instrument that is suited to
appropriate feminine comportment, one in which she sits
demurely beneath the spinet, legs together.
Moll Cutpurse, however, plays an "unmannerly
instrument for a woman. "53 when Sebastian takes down the
"viol" from the wall of his father's chamber and hands it
to Moll, he comments that Moll is "like a swan above
bridge; For look you here's the bridge, and here am I."5i
Moll gestures toward her unseemly straddle as she wraps her
unladylike legs around the "instrument" and engages in
bawdy repartee with Sebastian." As Jean E. Howard says,
Moll is doubly-transgressive because she plays an
instrument deemed inappropriate for her gender and because
she plays it in a public space." Moll's legs are spread a
second time during the scene with her tailor where the
52 Middleton, Thomas. A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, I.i.l. All quotes
from The Revels Plays. Ed. R. B. Parker. London: Methuen, 1969.
53 Chaste Maid, IV. i. 98-99.
54 Thomas Middleton and Thomas Decker. The Roaring Girl, IV. i. 82-3.
All quotes from Drama of the English Renaissance II: The Stuart Period.
Ed. Russell A. Fraser and Norman Rabkin. New York: MacMillan, 1976.
55 Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle. Howard points out that the
"original Moll Frith gained some of her considerable notoriety from
playing a lute on the stage of the Fortune theater" (123).
Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle.
dialogue is stuffed with suggestion. Moll has ordered a
new pair of breeches, this time the "great Dutch slop," or
wide-legged pants. The tailor comments, "I know my fault
now, t'other was somewhat stiff between the legs; I'll make
these open enough, I warrant you." 57 Even though Moll wears
breeches and a codpiece like a man, the tailor implies his
customer still spreads her legs like a woman. Moll is, in
effect, castrated by the tailor as he replaces the pants
"stiff between the legs" with a pair "open enough." The
clever, cross-dressed Moll is feminized in spite of her
Almost exclusively dressed in masculine attire, like
her historical counterpart, the literary Moll has become a
sideshow freak whose sexual preference is at once occluded
and exposed by her dress and manners. As a result, Sir
Alexander is unable to "name" her:
"A creature," saith he, "nature hath
To mock the sex of woman." It is a
One knows not how to name; her birth
Ere she was all made; 'tis woman more
Man more than woman; and, which to none
The sun gives her two shadows to one
57 Roaring Girl, II. ii. 94-96.
Nay, more, let this strange thing walk,
stand, or sit,
No blazing star draws more eyes after
Sir Alexander and his coterie consider Moll a monster who
has diseased and bewitched Sebastian. She is categorized
as both "whore" and "witch" and must be contained, for she
"strays so from her kind." 59 According to Michael Shapiro,
newly published studies of legal records suggest that
Elizabethan and Jacobean lower-class women who were accused
of cross-dressing were charged with conducting illicit
sexual liaisons. Yet, it does not appear that either
streetwalkers or prostitutes working in brothels frequently
cross-dressed. Nevertheless, the link between cross-
dressing and sexual offense was commonly made during the
early modern period, and women were punished for the former
whether or not evidence existed for the latter. 60 The
grounds for punishing transvestite women more than likely
was not for their transgressing sexual conduct codes but
for their overstepping gender boundaries. For a variety of
reasons, women may have concealed their identity, such as
to seek employment in a "male-only" vocation or to join the
military. By linking cross-dressing with sexual
58 Roaring Girl, I. ii. 129-31,
59 Roaring Girl, I.ii.217.
60 Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl." Orgel demonstrates how
the historical Mary Frith' s "masculine attire and comportment are-
assumed [by the ecclesiastical court] to constitute licentious
behaviour that is specifically female, implying that she is a whore and
a bawd" (13) .
impropriety, London officials attempted to regulate women's
lives . 61
This combination of male and female dress, this
blurring of gender boundaries, was considered "monstrous,"
by the author of Hie Mulier 62 and other critics; and this
attitude is reflected in Sir Alexander's comments about
Moll Cutpurse. Moll is being condemned for straying from
"her kind," not for engaging in prostitution. Her
straying, of course, is not simply a trope. Gesturally and
physically unconfined, Moll's unlicensed wandering
throughout London has brought her a measure of notoriety.
Moreover, Moll refuses to name her sexuality and confine
herself in marriage:
I have no humor to marry; I love to lie
o'both sides o' th' bed myself; and
again, o' th' other side, a wife, you
know, ought to be obedient, but I fear
me I am too headstrong to obey;
therefore I'll ne'er go about it. 63
While one can read Moll's stance against marriage as a
declaration of the roaring girl's unconventional sexuality,
I see Moll's desire qua desire for her own unencumbered
physical space. Moll doesn't want to share her bed — with
Michael Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy
Heroines and Female Pages (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994). See
especially Chapter 1.
62 Hie Mulier or the Mannish-Woman (London, 1620) .
63 Roaring Girl, II. ii. 38-42.
either gender; she prefers to sprawl her body across the
Jean E. Howard says that this can be Moll's
declaration of independence as well as an indication that
"she likes a certain unspecified variety in sexual partners
and practices." 64 She concludes, however, that attempting
to define Moll's "'real' sexual orientation" is
"impossible." With this, I would have to agree. Moll is
not a monstrosity because she is a bisexual, a lesbian, a
hermaphrodite, an androgyne, or a whore; she is maligned
because she refuses the stereotypes of wife and female
breeder. When she spreads her legs, she doesn't do it
within the institution of marriage and for the purpose of
procreating. Her presence, therefore, is not suitable
within the marriage paradigm. Moll's female body is deemed
unnatural because it is useless within the paradigm of a
Moll freely admits that she speaks against herself by
being honest about her desires--or lack of them. 65 Yet,
Moll's rhetoric also censures other women. In this case,
"old cozening widows" are accused of gulling young, naive
64 Jean E. Howard, "Sex and Social Conflict: The Roaring Girl," Erotic
Politics : Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York: Routledge, 1992)
65 Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl." Quoting from the
ecclesiastical court records, Orgel demonstrates how Moll confesses to
"blasphemy, drunkenness, and consorting with bad company" but denies
that she is "dishonest of her body and hath not also drawn other women
to lewdness by her persuasions and by carrying herself like a bawd"
men into marriage. Moll not only critiques her own "kind,"
but she also assists in getting one of them married off.
Throughout the play, Moll colludes with Sebastian who, in
turn, plots against his father to effect his marriage to
Mary Fitzallard, a woman who, according to Sir Alexander,
hasn't a sufficient dowry. Moll may cause Mary momentarily
to transgress sartorial boundaries; none the less, this
transgression ultimately serves the status quo. Much like
Shakespeare's romantic heroines, Mary cross-dresses to
accompany her future husband. At play's end, the dutiful
Mary becomes a wife beneath spouse and spinet while the
sexually ambiguous Moll equivocally claims she has done
"simple service" to "Father and son," 66 allying herself with
the powerful male aristocracy. Marked less by their
clothing and more by the positioning of their "breeched"
legs, it appears that neither the complacent Mary nor the
monstrous Moll pose a significant threat to the dominant
Even though Moll is breeched, she does not breach the
conduct book rules seriously enough to be chastised. Her
transvestitism seems of little concern to the powers that
be. As Stephen Orgel shows, "neither Elizabethan nor
Jacobean society finds the most visible symbol of female
masculinity, the transvestite woman, sufficiently
Roaring Girl, V.ii.206.
threatening to enact any law enjoining her behaviour." 67
Whatever "service" Moll performs for Sebastian and Sir
Alexander apparently ingratiates her with the male
aristocrats in the drama. Moll not only serves as a
marriage broker, but she also becomes a form of
entertainment, as did the historical Moll. Like a carnival
freak, Moll is drawn out of the periphery and positioned
within the very boundaries she so adamantly labors to
transgress. Her monstrous nature, in fact, is employed by
Sebastian to trick his father into allowing him to marry
Mary Fitzallard. As Stephen Orgel suggests, Moll's
"function is to facilitate Sebastian's marriage, to defeat
the patriarchal menace [Sir Alexander] in favour of the
patriarchal virtues [Sebastian's desire to marry Mary
Fitzallard]." 68 Middleton and Dekker would have us believe
that the unmarried Moll intends to remain chaste and
virtuous, as the conduct books would have enjoined her to
do. Any reformation of her outrageous behavior can be
found in the pleasure of conduct book instruction, as one
writer puts it.
In 1639, Jacques DuBosc's The Compleat Woman was
translated into English and published in London. In order
to placate the text's detractors and to justify the praise
Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl," 15.
68 Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl," 24
that DuBosc afforded women, "O.F.," the writer of the
It was needfull then to set another
face upon it, to disguise a Precept
under the habit of a Praise, to
embellish Women with all the
perfections which they want, to praise
them for all the vertues he would
perswade them to; and making their
pictures somewhat handsomer and fairer
then they, to shew them ingenuously
their faults, and withall to procure a
desire in them to correct them. 69
This methodology, the writer of the Preface claims, will
make women "finde their pleasure in their instruction" 70
that must be doled out in degrees; for the reformation of
women is "so great a Work" and one that could "dishartneth
them quite." 71 The first step in shaping a "compleate" or
perfect woman is to guide her in her reading habits. The
best course of action is to restrict one's reading to the
Bible since perusing a wide variety of books is an excess
that can "diminisheth the light and vigour of the minde." 72
What is more, reading pamphlets can teach women evil
lessons and cause them to "sinne wittily." 73 This is
precisely what Frank Gullman, a "witty" female sinner in
69 Jacques DuBosc, preface, The Compleat Woman (London 1639) C.
70 DuBosc, preface, The Compleat Woman, F3 .
71 DuBosc, preface, The Compleat Woman, G.
72 DuBosc, "Of Reading," The Compleat Woman, 6.
73 DuBosc, "Of Reading," The Compleat Woman, 14.
Thomas Middleton's A Mad World, My Masters, advises her
companion Mrs. Harebrain to do as she is dissembling:
If [your husband] chance steal upon
you, let him find
Some book lie open 'gainst an unchaste
And coted scriptures, though for your
You read some stirring pamphlet, and
Under your skirt, the fittest place to
lay it. 74
Unlike Moll Frith, Frank Gullman is an admitted courtesan
who teaches her tricks to Mrs. Harebrain and uses them to
ingratiate herself with every major male character in the
play, benefiting from each liaison. Eventually she
outsmarts and marries the wittiest of her male associates,
Richard Follywit, nephew and heir of a wealthy, aged knight
who presents the couple with a thousand-mark wedding gift
to sustain them until Follywit receives his full
inheritance. Meanwhile, Frank's wily, pimping mother has
already sold her daughter's virginity to fifteen men. We
are told Mrs. Gullman 's "carriage" helped dupe the
consumers, and she plans to continue her lucrative
Though fifteen, all thy maidenheads are
The Italian is not serv'd yet, nor the
The British men come for a dozen at
74 Thomas Middleton, A Mad World, My Masters, I. ii. 85-90. All quotes
from Regents Renaissance Drama Series. Ed. Cyrus Hoy. Lincoln: U of
Nebraska P, 1976.
They engross all the market. Tut, my
'Tis nothing but a politic conveyance,
A sincere carriage, a religious eyebrow
That throws their charms over the
worldings ' senses.... 75
Mother Gullman's pretense, inscribed by her bodily
carriage, permits her a social mobility from the lower
class to the middling class and results in her taking on
the male-identified role of pimp for her own daughter. It
appears that Frank Gullman is an expert dissembler, for she
is able to maintain the appearance of a chaste maiden.
This, according to one conduct book, is normally not the
Now the [Mayde] , which goeth abrode
euery day with her Mother, and haunteth
Feastes and Banquets, melteth away like
Waxe in the fire; and driuing by little
and little the maydenly modesty, out of
her lookes and gestures, there
appeareth in her a licencious and
wanton behauiour; so that she is rather
taken for a Mother, then a Mayde.... 76
The inverse has occurred for Frank Gullman. The more she
dissembles, the more adept she becomes at her role. While
permitting the peddling of her "virginity," Gullman
simultaneously vends her sensuality to Sir Bounteous
Progress who remunerates her for weekly bedtime visits to
75 Mad World, I. i. 156-62.
76 The Court of Good Councell, Chapter XII, n. pag.
his home, even though we surmise that the aged Sir
Bounteous is impotent.
At the same time, Master Penitent Brothel enlists
Frank to convince Mistress Harebrain to partake in an
assignation with him. Like Moll Frith, Gullman aligns
herself with masculine power for her own self-
aggrandizement. However, Gullman' s association almost
results in the demoralization of another woman. Mistress
Harebrain, because of her husband's unfounded jealousy, is
locked in her house. Master Harebrain, like Claudio and
Benedick in Much Ado, sees a woman as a jewel that must be
encased, locked up: "There is a gem I would not lose, kept
by the Italian under lock and key; we Englishmen are
careless creatures. Well, I have said enough." 77 Believing
a woman's gestures speak her mind, Master Harebrain
prepares to spy on his wife:
I will observe her carriage, and watch
The slippery revolutions of her eye;
I'll lie in wait for every glance she
And poise her words i'th' balance of
If she but swag, she's gone: either on
Overfamiliar, or this too neglectful;
It does behove her carry herself even. 78
Both a gestural excess and lack can cause a husband to
suspect his wife. Mistress Harebrain complains: "Then our
77 Mad World, I. ii. 20-22.
78 Mad World, III. i. 10-16.
attires are tax'd, our very gait/Is call'd in question...." 79
A woman's gestures, one conduct book writer admits, are, in
the last instance, subject to male scripting:
May not those women who are serious
passe for vaine or stupid, as well as
modest? Interpretation doth all, and
even when things are not indifferent,
wee speake of them more according to
opinion, then to their owne nature. In
fine, the wife must seek Consolation in
their spirit, and when wee have done
all we can, to deserve a good
Reputation, we must flight the ill. 80
Master Harebrain locks up his wife and sets several
watchmen about the house, but his extraordinary precautions
appear futile. Because he believes that both Frank and her
mother are virtuous women, having read their bodies as
such, he allows Frank to visit his incarcerated wife.
Ironically, Master Harebrain misinterprets the gestures of
the two women he should suspect most:
Oh, Lady Gullman, my wife's only company,
welcome ! And
how does the virtuous matron, that good
thy mother? I persuade myself if
modesty be in the world
she has part on't. A woman of an
excellent carriage all her
lifetime, in court, city, and country. 81
As a result, Penitent Brothel may very likely have his
way with Mistress Harebrain, thanks to Mrs. Gullman's
79 Mad World, III . ii . 111-12 .
so DuBosc, "Of Reputation," The Compleat Woman, 50-51,
11 Mad World, I. ii. 28-32.
"carriage" and Frank's wit. Frank feigns an illness (that
the fatuous Sir Bounteous Progress believes is the result
of his impregnating her) and gets Mistress Harebrain to
visit her while Penitent Brothel impersonates Frank's
physician. As Frank pretends to be conversing with
Mistress Harebrain (Master Harebrain is all the while
listening at the door), Penitent Brothel takes Mistress
Harebrain to another room and apparently to bed. Later on,
however, a succubus informs Brothel that it was she, not
Mistress Harebrain, who made love to him. The reader is
left to decide for herself whom to believe. Frank,
however, is not through with her witty antics, the last of
which finds her transformed into a virtuous maiden married
to Richard Follywit, nephew and heir to Sir Bounteous ' s
Frank Gullman comports herself in and out of the lives
of four influential men, transforming her somatic
signifiers to meet the occasion, now virgin, now whore, now
chaste friend, now deceptive finagler, now virtuous wife.
As conduct books promulgate the signs of the ideal wife,
they simultaneously clear a space for those signs to be
subverted. If the ideal can be taxonomized into external
signifiers, then the lie of that ideal can be manifested as
well. As one author acknowledges:
Many desire to appeare most to the eye,
what they are least in heart. They
haue learned artfully to gull the world
with apparances; and deceiue the time.
Wherein they are Maskers, with vizards
and semblances. 82
If feminine gestures are intended to silently speak the
female interior, then a woman like Frank Gullman can write
her own moral script, counterfeiting with her smile, blush,
speech, and gait. Speaking of such deceptive women, one
conduct book writer says,
Their speech is minced, their pace
measured, their whole posture so
cunningly composed, as one would
imagine them terrestriall Saints at
This is precisely what Frank Gullman does, yet we must
examine how and to what end. In spite of her ingenuity and
wit, Frank must always involve a man in each of her schemes
in order to gain economic security, the telos of her clever
machinations. Like a chameleon, Frank, in order to earn a
living, adapts her body to conciliate each partner's
passing fancy or erotic desire. For Frank, like most women
of her time, she must marry to achieve any social
recognition and financial stability. In so doing, however,
a woman is hindered from circulating in the public arena,
as is Frank. Ultimately, Gullman' s "craft" is anchored in
the safe harbor of marriage. Not only does Follywit see
his bag of tricks emptied, but Frank Gullman witnesses the
last of her intrigues (or so we are led to assume) . Sir
Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 114.
83 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 114
Come, gentlemen, to th' feast, let not
We have pleas ' d our ear, now let us
please our taste.
Who lives by cunning, mark it, his
When he has gull'd all, then is himself
the last. 84
Even though Sir Bounteous is referring to his nephew, the
message equally applies to his new niece. Once Frank
marries Follywit, she performs her final metamorphosis,
becoming, she claims, the chaste and dutiful wife of the
conduct books: "What I have been is past; be that
forgiven, /And have a soul true both to thee and heaven." 85
Frank has achieved the ultimate conversion of body and
soul, since to "conserve a good grace, [women] should know
how to rule the motions of the soule, as well as those of
the body." 86 Her soul immobilized and her body stagnated,
the spiritual unites with the material on Frank's married,
immobilized body. It is not only a "ciuill habit, a demure
looke, a staid gate" that brings esteem to a woman; all
this feminine grace must be "seconded with a resolued
soule, and a religious heart." 87
It would seem a woman could dissemble her way through
life, an anxiety lurking between the interstices of conduct
84 Mad World, V.ii. 269-72.
85 Mad World, V.ii. 259-60.
86 DuBosc, "Of a Good Grace," The Compleat Woman, 53.
87 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 115.
book injunctions. To dissuade a woman from such an
assumption, conduct books position her beneath the
"piercing eye of heauen." 88 As for prostitutes, "God defers
their punishment to make it more extreame; he will not have
their punishments in this world, which hee prepares them in
the next." 89 Frank has judiciously altered her ways, aware
of the inescapable gaze of a heavenly panopticism. While
the human eye can be deceived, Frank knows that the
all-seeing eye cannot be deceiued; hee
sees not as man seeth. Neither
distance of place, nor resemblance of
that biest, whereon his eye is fixt,
can cause him to mistake. 90
The reformed prostitute recognizes she must relinquish her
life of dissembling and become an "honest" wife, lest she
spend eternity dangling like a spider over the fiery pit of
hell. One author warns that even if a woman managed to
dissemble all her life, when her body was "shrouded," all
her actions would be "vncased." He continues, "Rumour then
will take more liberty to discouer vnto the world, what you
did in it. 91
Conduct book writers were well aware of the potential
for deceit that they created by fashioning a woman's body
as a slate on which to chalk her soul. Frank Whigham
88 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 116.
89 DuBosc, "The Dissolute Woman," The Compleat Woman, 61-2,
90 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 117.
91 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 193.
writes that Renaissance courtesy literature began to
develop when the aristocracy was becoming anxious that
their social positions potentially could be threatened by
bourgeois upstarts. Paradoxically, while this type of
literature was meant to help strengthen a courtier's social
position by prescribing his appropriate behavior, that very
behavior could be mimicked by the upwardly mobile who were
scrambling for higher social status. 92 In this respect,
Jonas Barish believes that as a code of behavior becomes
more crystallized, it becomes "an impersonation, a
deception," and "Castiglione, thus turns out to be a benign
cousin of Machiavelli." 93 While conduct books for women
aimed to create docile bodies of the middle classes through
practiced bodily discipline, this was a fledgling
methodology that reguired support-the tried and true
Christian threat of eternal damnation.
Perhaps the most disturbing representation of a cross-
dressed woman among Middleton's comedies is that of the
pregnant page in More Dissemblers Besides Women. The boy
actor playing the role most likely provided comic
entertainment as his female character went into labor,
unsuccessfully attempting to simultaneously dance and
conceal her pain. The play-boy's staged gyrations would
Frank Whigham, Ambition and Privilege (Berkeley: U of California P
93 Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: U of California
P, 1981) 183.
have displayed his adroit acting ability and "quicksilver" 94
moves in and out of his disguise. Nevertheless, our
anonymous page, identified in the dramatis personae as
"Lactantio's mistress in disguise," is anything but comic
when her circumstances are revealed. After she informs
Lactantio, nephew and heir to the Lord Cardinal of Milan,
that she is pregnant with his child, Lactantio berates her
for shaming him with her condition:
Thou art th* unfortunat ' st piece of
That ever man repented when day peep'd;
I'll ne'er keep such a piece of
And I were rid of thee once 95
When Lactantio's page/mistress reminds him that she left
her home in Mantua, responding to his "strange oaths," or
promise of marriage, Lactantio retorts cruelly:
94 Michael Shapiro, in Gender in Play, utilizes this term to focus on
the acting ability of play-boys. He views the multi-layered boy-
heroine/female-page as a "figure of considerable theatrical potency,
for as the performer shifted from one layer of gender identity to
another, sometimes quite rapidly, and as spectators shifted their focus
from one layer to another with equal rapidity, what emerged even when
the character lacked psychological complexity was a figure of
mysterious depths and shadows, of fluid yet multiple layers of
identity, of enormous power" (62) . This power resides in the boy
actor, not in the female character or its representation of the
feminine. Sue-Ellen Case, in Feminism and Theatre, argues that critics
like Harley Granville-Barker legitimate the exclusion of Elizabethan
women actors by "aestheticising male transvestism on the stage," a
practice based "upon the same principles the Church used to exclude
women [from dramatic presentations] in the first place...the male gender
within the practice of celibacy is the appropriate site for public
performance and artistic production" (24). Within this context,
Shapiro appears to be following Granville-Barker.
95 Thomas Middleton, More Dissemblers Besides Women, III. i. 3-5. All
quotes from The Works of Thomas Middleton, ed. A. H. Bullen, B.A., Vol.
6, (New York: AMS Press Inc., 1964.)
With strange oaths, quoth 'a?
They're not so strange to me; I've
sworn the same things
I'm sure forty times over, not so
I may be perfect in 'em, for my
Anxious to dispose of this signifier of female shame,
Lactantio considers sending her off to the woman who nursed
him as an infant. Ultimately, Lactantio' s uncle, the
Cardinal, takes pity on the page who is "so soft, th'
unkindness of a word melts him into a woman." 97 The
Cardinal, believing the page's "eyes stand full" 98 because
his nephew has been too "bitter" towards him/her, sends the
page to serve the Duchess of Milan. When the Duchess
insists her page be trained in singing and dancing, the
cross-dressed and very pregnant page is naturally
distressed at her situation: "Singing and dancing! 'las,
my case is worse! /I rather need a midwife and a nurse." 99
As the page is about to begin her lessons, she screams out
in asides, "0, my back!" 100 and "0 my stomach!" 101 Her
physical and emotional distress are the subject of humor,
as the language is charged with double meaning. Crotchet
96 More Dissemblers, III. i. 15-18.
97 More Dissemblers, III . i . 134-35 .
98 More Dissemblers, I I I. i. 132.
99 More Dissemblers, IV. ii. 88-89.
100 More Dissemblers, V.i.14.
101 More Dissemblers, V.i.31.
the singing-schoolmaster instructs Sinquapace the dancing-
schoolmaster to "dilate the matter to [him]"; 102 Celia
comments to Sinquapace that the page is "very raw, you must
take pains with him"; 103 and the page comments, "I'm even as
full of qualms as heart can bear." 104
The page nearly reveals herself when Sinquapace
instructs her to begin the dance. Instead of "making a
leg, " the page unthinkingly employs her feminine gesture,
curtsying instead bowing. The horrified Sinquapace
exclaims to his usher: "Curtsy, heyday! run to him,
Nicholao; By this light, he'll shame me; he makes curtsy
like a chambermaid." 105 Sinquapace' s rhetoric and the
page's curtsey reduce the page to a chambermaid who, as a
dancing woman, is subject to religious remonstrance. One
conduct book author closely associates "disordered places
of daunsings and ministrelsey" with "houses of bawdrey." 106
Already written as "whore" by the father of her child, the
page reinscribes this epithet with her "daunsings." Edward
Hake believes the women who can "hop, skip, & tourne on the
102 More Dissemblers, V.i.64
103 M Qre Dissemblers, V.i.141.
104 More Dissemblers, V.i.159.
105 Moce Dissemblers, V.i.181.
106 Edward Hake, A Touchstone for this Time Presently Declaring Such
Ruines, Enormities, and Abuses as Trouble the Churche of God (London,
1574. Norwood, N.J.: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd., 1974) n. pag.
toe" are the very women who avoid church attendance. 107
Furthermore, parents who "sit beholding the straunge
Jestures, footing and countenaunce of theyr curious
fantastical Daughters" are permitting their daughters to
defile their bodies and to experience the "utter losse of
theyr honestye and good name." 108 Hake continues that once
a woman experiences dancing, she will turn to all manner of
evil, requiring fashionable apparel and desiring
"walkinges, feastinges, and watchinges, and al kinde of
pleasure that maketh perfect the trade of a Strumpet." 109
While it appears that the page has reversed Hake's
order— she has learned to dance after she has enjoyed "al
kinde of pleasure"— the page is, nonetheless, linked to
whoredom through her body's "straunge Jestures." This
dancing woman is a whore. Hake suggests this
transformation can be avoided if figures of authority
follow an Egyptian social practice. The Egyptians, he
reports, have a custom
that women shal weare no shoes, for
intent onely that they shoulde abide at
home, and not (so much as once) been
seene out of the hooses of theyr
Parentes or Husbands. 110
107 Hake, A Touchstone for this Time, n. pag.
108 Hake, A Touchstone for this Time, n. pag.
109 Hake, A Touchstone for this Time, n. pag.
110 Hake, A Touchstone for this Time, n. pag.
Unfortunately, such homely advice comes a bit too late
for the page. Sinquapace frantically instructs the page to
make a "good leg": "Open thy knees; wider, wider, wider,
wider: did you ever see a boy clenched up?" 111 The irony
here, of course, is that the page has unfortunately opened
her legs to a man who has deceived her, used her, and sent
her packing. As a result, she is attempting to hold off
the consequences of her societal transgression by keeping
her legs closed. As the page attempts to maintain her
disguise, dance, and endure labor pains, Sinquapace
continues to bark instructions:
Come on, sir, now; cast thy leg out
lift it up aloft, boy: a pox, his
knees are soldered
together, they're sewed together:
canst not stride? 0,
I could eat thee up, I could eat thee
up, and begin upon
thy hinder quurter, thy hinder quarter!
I shall never
teach this boy without a screw; his
knees must be opened
with a vice, or there's no good to be
done upon him. 112
The page's knees and legs already having been "opened
with a vice," renders the page "no good." Unable to
continue dancing, the unfortunate woman falls to the
ground, in what Nicholoa reads as a swoon. Like so many of
111 More Dissemblers, V.i. 190-91.
112 More Dissemblers, V.i. 198-204
her counterparts, the fallen page lies prone, gesturing
toward her physical shortcomings and her biological
predestination. Not surprisingly, swooning as a sign of
femininity finds it roots in the Middle Ages. Medieval
conduct books encourage women to display their emotions
passively. Only "bad" women and shrews demonstrate their
anger; "good" women moan, wail, and swoon. 113 Of course,
"playing" the "good" woman comes too late for the fallen
The Duchess, who has "fallen" as well, asks
forgiveness for breaking a vow of chastity she has not
technically broken. By committing herself to a life of
celibacy, the Duchess becomes the agent of her own
enclosure, her body the very temple 114 of her imprisonment:
Return I humbly now from whence I fell.
All you bless' d powers that register
Of virgins and chaste matrons, look on
With eyes of mercy, seal forgiveness to
By signs of inward peace! and to be
That I will never fail your good hopes
113 Hallissy, in Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, discusses
how Chaucer alters Ovid's Heroides and Virgil's Aeneid, sources for his
Legend, to depict Dido as a "good" woman, in accordance to the medieval
conduct books. To accomplish this transformation, Dido swoons "more
than twenty times" (29).
114 Paul refers to a Christian's body as a temple of the Holy Spirit in
I Corinthians 6:19: "What? know ye not that your body is the temple
of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not
I bind myself more strictly; all my
I'll speedily commend to holy uses,
This temple unto some religious
Where all my time to come I will allow
For fruitful thoughts; so knit I up my
The Duchess becomes her own jailer and keeper as images of
the feminine "bind" her body in a spiritual corset and
"knit" her mind to her sacred vow. The Duchess is unique
for she represents the ideal widow of the conduct books who
"desires noting else, than to satisfie her husbands
bequest, though dead: honouring him with a due
Commemoration and admiration of his vertues." 116 She is not
the sterotypical lusting widow of comedy who allows herself
to be duped by the first gold-digger who crosses her
incontinent path. Never the less, one conduct book
suggests that younger widows should remarry so they do not
wax wanton against Christ, and follow
Satan, breaking their first faith and
promise, which they made to God at
their baptism (which is to abstain from
all uncleanness both of body and mind,
and to lead a pure and honest life) ,
and so cast themselves into the danger
of everlasting damnation.... 117
Older widows, Becon writes should devote themselves
"wholly" to the
115 More Dissemblers, V.ii. 194-204.
116 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 113.
117 Thomas Becon, The Catachism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1844) 365
Originally published in Workes 1560-1564 .
exercises of the spirit, as to frequent
the temple in the time of prayer, to be
present at the sermons, to visit the
sick, to relieve the needy, to wash the
feet of the saints, to be rich in good
works, to continue in prayers and
supplications both day and night, and
to be holy both in body and mind 118
as the Old Testament Judith who dwelt in the "higher parts
of her house. ..being closed in with her maids" 119 or the New
Testament Anna who never left the temple in which she
fasted day and night. All of this advice to widows derives
from St. Paul. The Duchess, apparently steeped in
religious instruction from the Cardinal, heeds the
apostle's advice and removes her body from any further
temptation and gossip. One conduct book writer suggests
that "for a widow to loue society, albeit her intentions
relish nothing but sobriety, giues speedy wings to
spreading infamy." 120
Becon, in his Catachism warns aging widows who "set
their mind on fleshly pleasures" against marrying "boys of
eighteen years old." These women, "so plagued with
diseases that they were not almost able to stir in their
beds" were soon forsaken by their young grooms who "have
little esteemed their wives," leaving "them in all misery
whom they found rich and wealthy" and who are now left "old
118 Becon, The Catachism, 365.
119 Becon, The Catachism, 365.
120 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 110.
and toothless." 121 Perhaps this unpleasant picture was
enough to convince the Duchess to return to her tower; for,
in spite of her momentary attraction to Andrugio, she
maintains her life of celibacy and removes to her estate.
Moreover, to be certain she does not attract a man bent on
fleecing her of her fortune, the Duchess "commend [s] " her
money to "holy uses" and her body to "some religious
sanctuary." We do not know how old the Duchess is;
therefore, it is difficult to categorize her as "young" or
"old." However, we do know that, as Shulamith Shahar
writes, an adult widow had the benefit of escaping the
authority of a husband, father, or brother [s] . Widows who
chose either not to remarry or to become nuns enjoyed the
benefit of living without male dominance. 122
Before retreating to her sanctuary, however, the
Duchess becomes the agent of another female enclosure,
blessing a marriage between Aurelia and Andrugio. The
Duchess continues her matchmaking by marrying off the page
to Lactantio, the father of the page's child. One wonders
what type of marriage this will be when Lactantio considers
this match a "wicked and true" consequence of his unchecked
lust and sees his wife as a "quean" or whore:
Curse of this fortune! this 'tis to
121 Becon, The Catachism, 366.
122 Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the
Middle Ages, trans. ChayaGalai (London: Routledge, 1983). See
especially Chapter 4.
taking stuff, whose belly cannot be
confined in a waist-
band. [Aside. ] --Pray, what have you
done with the
breeches? we shall have need of * em
shortly, and we get
children so fast; they are too good to
be cast away. My
son and heir need not scorn to wear
what his mother has
left off. I had my fortune told me by
a gipsy seven years
ago; she said then I should be the
spoil of many a maid,
and at seven years' end marry a quean
for my labour,
which falls out wicked and true. 123
Lactantio will have his wife keep her illicit "breeches," a
symbol of her breached chastity and "fall," to give to his
"son and heir" as a hand-me-down and constant reminder of
his mother's "wicked" behavior and apparent fecundity.
Although the anonymous page is fulfilling her woman's part
as female breeder, her role is not commendable, having been
cast too soon. Not as fortunate as Frank Gullman, the evil
prostitute turned good wife, the page is granted no
salvific or transformative powers through marriage.
According to Lactantio' s "wicked" truth, once a "quean,"
always a quean. This comedy might end in marriage;
however, one suspects there is nothing humorous about this
Throughout Middleton's comedy, women fall, swoon, and
blush, simultaneously gesturing toward their fragility
123 More Dissemblers, V.ii.249-5S
while welcoming their physical and emotional imprisonment.
In Act I, Lactantio claims Aurelia as his prisoner to which
Aurelia responds, "I swear it willingly, 124 even though she
objects to her father, " 'Tis prisonment enough to be a
maid...." 125 Apparently, she is only too happy to be
exchanged from one male keeper to another. The Duchess,
too, declares, "How happily might woman live, methinks,
confin'd within the knowledge of one husband!" 126 The
Cardinal and Lords rever the Duchess only when she confines
her body and renounces her sexuality. The Duchess cannot
subject herself and her pride to what the Cardinal calls
the "unlucky ruin of so fair a temple." 127 She prefers to
transform her body into a static icon, a "temple" within a
In these refreshingly varied portrayals of women, we
find a welcome change from the momentarily witty woman who
remains chaste during her escapades and is, at last,
exchanged between father and husband. However, even though
the women in this chapter more seriously transgress conduct
book discipline, their subversive tactics are checked at
the door as they return to the ideal early modern
household. Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado and Kate in Shrew
124 More Dissemblers, I.ii.176.
125 More Dissemblers, II.iii.31.
126 More Dissemblers, I.ii.3-4
127 More Dissemblers, II. i. 102,
willingly submit themselves to their husbands' authority,
even if that authority has unjustly maligned their good
name or physically abused them into submission, clearly
identified in their obsequious bowing before their "lords."
The other female characters who appear to overstep their
gendered bounds do little damage to the status quo. The
transvestite, roving, and individualistic Moll, helps
secure a marriage, ironically, by cross-dressing her friend
Mary. For all of these female characters, their feminine
poise continually belies their masculine assertiveness that
is, at best, fleeting. Even the women who blatantly
transgress codes of sexual conduct, using their wandering
bodies as bargaining chips, such as Frank Gullman and the
pregnant page, are eventually reigned in, their clever
disguises and feigned comportment discarded at the
OBSEQUYE AND OBEDIENCE
As the female characters in the comedies begin to
contravene the signifiers of their femininity, their lives
become less idyllic, and these "monsters" and "whores"
begin to reap more serious consequences of male
disapprobation. The men soon realize that while they can
read a woman's body purportedly through their own
subjective lenses, seditious women can cause that reading.
A feminine gesturology that once meant what it "said" no
longer "says" what it means. Therefore, women must be
scrutinized all the more closely, and their bodies must be
read between the gestures, so to speak. In Shakespeare's
tragicomedies, heroines almost immediately receive
masculine disapproval, even though their behavior is
exemplary, according to conduct book directives. It is as
if the men are lying in wait, desiring to vilify and
expunge the bodies of the chaste female characters,
clearing the stage of even the representations of women.
Hermione in The Winter's Tale is banished from court
and the central action of the play and is, thereby,
marginalized as a character. Furthermore, even the cliched
male-page disguise that once afforded Shakespeare's comic
heroines a make-believe measure of authority, has become
for Imogen in Cymbeline not a disguise for her female
frailty, but an outward signifier of her state of
helplessness and victimization. 1 Both characters accentuate
their wretched condition and reliance on the whims of male
gods, fathers, and husbands through their tacitly gesturing
bodies. While Imogen lurks in a cave, swooning at each
appropriate cue, Hermione dutifully languishes in prison,
praying for grace.
Hermione' s apparent state of suspended animation is
the result of Leontes's unfounded jealousy, a
characteristic male trait frequently addressed in the
conduct books. In spite of this gendering of a pejorative
trait, the conduct books do not address the manner in which
a husband should avoid such behavior. Instead, the
opposite seems to obtain. While Master Pedro, the narrator
of The Flower of Friendship, advises husbands to eschew
adultery, gambling, and drunkenness, he suggests that if
this "rooting out" is not entirely successful, wives must
remain obedient to their offending husbands. This spousal
submission is expressed through Master Pedro's copious
examples of virtuous wives who imprison themselves, commit
suicide, ride into battle with their men, and fling
themselves over cliffs. The point of wifely obedience is
emphasized to the extreme when Master Pedro relates a story
about a spurned wife whose husband was seduced by a harlot.
1 Michael Shapiro, "From Center to Periphery: Cymbeline," Gender in Play
on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages. (Ann Arbor-
U of Michigan P, 1994).
Her "gaye eyes," clearly undisciplined in their gaze, "had
so intrapped thys jolye hunter, that under the colour
thereof, he oftentimes resorted unto hir, and laye divers
nightes out of his owne house." 2 The wife, discovering that
her husband's extra-curricular accommodations were "very
homely," 3 and fearing harm might befall him as a result,
disguised herself as her husband's sister and refurnished
the harlot's home. When the husband surmised what his wife
had done, he returned home, "overcome by hir vertue." 4
Thereafter, he remained content to live with her. The
lesson from this anecdote is all too lucid: "in deede both
divine, and humaine lawes, in our religion giveth the man
absolute aucthoritie, over the woman in all places." 5
Like Tilney's text, other conduct books instruct a
wife in the appropriate response to her spouse's jealous
tantrums, regardless of their foundation. Not
surprisingly, one conduct book admonishes any woman
presumptuous enough to
beare her selfe, so boldly upon her
honest meaning, to thinke that God will
alwayes holde his hand ouer her head:
for he oftentimes suffereth a woman to
2 Edmund Tilney, The Flower of Friendship (London, 1568) 139.
3 Tilney, The Flower of Friendship, 139.
4 Tilney, The Flower of Friendship, 14 0.
5 Tilney, The Flower of Friendship, 134.
be reproued wrongfully, for a
punishment of her lightnes and vanity.... 6
Perhaps Hermione has relied too heavily on God's, or in the
context of the play, Apollo's, good graces. She has
apparently assumed that she has divine protection against
slander since her body's careful movements mark her with
"honest meaning." Unfortunately, Leontes reads his wife's
gestures through a lens overcast with jealousy. The King
of Sicilia observes his pregnant consort giving her hand to
Too hot, too hot!
To mingle friendship far is mingling
I. have tremor cordis on me. My heart
But not for joy, not joy. This
May a free face put on, derive a
From heartiness, from bounty, fertile
And well become the agent. 7
Hermione' s virtuous signals of hospitality, her "free
face," are transformed into "paddling palms and pinching
fingers." 8 Peter Erickson says that Leontes misreads
Hermione' s nurturing, maternal role: "Once the 'free face'
of nurturance appears to be a mask falsely x put on,'
6 The Court of Good Counsell (London, 1607) Chapter IX, n. pag.
7 The Winter's Tale, I. ii. 109-14. All quotations from Shakespeare are
from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington.
(Glenview, ILL: Scott, Foresman, 1980.)
8 The Winter's Tale, I.ii.115.
Leontes's belief collapses...." 9 Whatever the cause of his
misreading, 10 the more he observes his wife, the more
Leontes is convinced that Hermione's kindly gestures
signify her adultery with Polixenes, who is the father of
the child she carries:
Go to, go to!
How she holds up the neb, the bill to
And arms her with the boldness of a
To her allowing husband! 11
Perhaps knowing that women are capable of subverting their
gestural signifiers, Leontes assumes his wife is
"disguising" her adulterous behavior with a well-rehearsed
code of comportment. Therefore, he accuses Camillo of
having an "eye-glass... thicker than a cuckold's horn," 12
insisting that his reading of Hermione's material body is
valid. Cannot Camillo see that Hermione "Is leaning cheek
to cheek? Is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip?" 13
Perhaps, too, Hermione's bright countenance glows in
9 Peter Erickson, "The Limitations of Reformed Masculinity in The
Winter's Tale," in Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama
(Berkeley: U of California P, 1985) 148.
10 Jean E. Howard, The Norton Shakespeare, eds . Stephen Greenblatt, et
al. (New York: Norton, 1997). Howard suggests Leontes's jealousy "has
its roots in the cultural practices which in Jacobean England made men
the heads of families, lineages, and kingdoms, and at the same time
made them crucially dependent on women's reproductive powers to
generate legitimate heirs" (2876) .
11 The Winter's Tale, I. ii. 182-84.
12 The Winter's Tale, I. ii. 267-68.
13 The Winter's Tale, I. ii. 284-85.
excess, igniting Leontes's mistrust. As one conduct book
writer says, to "prevent all mistrust, it behoveth an
honest woman, to shew her selfe so sober and chast in
countenance, that no man may be so hardy to assayle her." 14
According to Camillo, Leontes's reading of Hermione's
countenance is informed by his "diseas'd opinion." 15
Camillo realizes that his king is mad, and as a result,
countermands Leontes's orders to murder Polixenes, helping
the king's boyhood friend to escape with his life.
Meanwhile, Hermione is left to face Leontes's public
accusations and her unmerited shame. Breaking his promise
to Camillo not to slur the queen's good name, Leontes asks
his lords to "mark her well" as he demonstrates how
Hermione's "without-door form" 16 of "shrugs, these hums, and
ha's," 17 prove his wife to be a "bed-swerver . " 18 Hermione's
pleas unheeded, Leontes orders his wife off to prison.
Like a dutiful wife, Hermione never once retaliates but,
instead, fulfills conduct book expectations:
But where the understondinge of
obsequye and obedience is, there let
euery one remembre that the tother hath
the nature of ma[n]kynde in him, and is
tempted, let the one lende to the other
14 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter XI, n. pag.
15 The Winter's Tale, I.ii.296.
16 The Winter's Tale, I.i.10
17 The Winter's Tale, II.i.75.
18 The Winter's Tale, II.i.94.
somewhat in temptation, forbeare with
him, and geue him the place gently for
a tyme. And though thy spouse in his
displeasure do happen for to speake an
unkynde or unientle worde, yet thinke
that it was not he, but wrathe that
spake it. 19
Hermione does forbear, believing, "There's some ill
planet reigns. I must be patient till the heavens look
with an aspect more favorable . "^ Bearing up a conduct-book
exemplar, Hermione instructs her attending ladies not to
weep, convinced that "this action I now go on is for my
better grace." 21 Hermione believes that she is being
divinely "tested." Locked away, she will spend her days
praying for an added measure of god-given grace. One
conduct book writer says, in regard to her husband's
jealous behavior, a wife must
Continue her kindnes towards him, least
by fayling of her wont, she seeme to
wax colde in loue, or by exceeding her
custome shee seeme to cullour some
crime, whereby she may drive some
foolish toy into his head, which
Jealousie, if by chaunce he be once
possest withall, she must labour, by
all meanes possible to rid him of it.
Not being as some foolish women doe,
who very unwisely, and to their owne
great hurt, seeke to continue that
suspition in their husbands, that
Heinrich Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony [Antwerp, 1541],
Chapter 18. I site chapter number here and forward to avoid problems '
with irregular pagination in the original text.
The Winter's Tale, II.i.l06-0i
21 The Winter's Tale, II. i. 122-23.
others laye siedge to their owne
Though Hermione is innocent of sexual misconduct, she
recognizes that prison is, for her, a haven. Although
incarcerated, she hopes to be relatively immune from any
further accusations while under continual guard and
observation. Moreover, she prays her submissiveness will
tacitly testify to her unwavering love for her husband and
her chaste body. The image of a praying woman, according to
one conduct book writer, is exemplary. Brathwaite
rehearses tales of women whose bodies became permanently
marked as a result of their long periods of prayer. One
woman's "knees seemed to cleaue to the earth, and to grow
to the very ground" while another's elbows became "as hard
as home" from leaning on a desk "at which shee vsed to
pray." 23 Images of static bodies turned to stone again
suggest a feminine gesturology that signifies stasis and
This behavior, however, is not sufficient for Leontes,
who will not be dissuaded from his almost pleasurable
jealousy, not even by his advisors, dumfounded as they are
by their liege's behavior. Leontes seeks a sign from
Apollo, convinced the god will supply only a "greater
confirmation" 24 of his wife's perfidy. Yet, when the
22 The Court of Good Counsell (London, 1607), Chapter XI, n. pag.
23 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631) 47.
24 The Winter's Tale, II. i. 181.
Delphic oracle endorses Hermione's innocence, the
solipsistic Leontes claims, "There is no truth at all I'
th' oracle," 25 justifying the continuance of his wife's
trial. The inquisition, however, is interrupted by a
servant announcing the Prince's death. Suddenly, the
capricious king, realizing his imprudent behavior, admits
his son's demise is a sign of his "injustice" 26 while
Hermione demonstrates her grief with the obligatory swoon.
Later, when Paulina announces Hermione's "death," she
chastises the king for his tyrannical behavior but then
attenuates her remonstrance with an apology for having "too
much the rashness of a woman." 27 She asks that Leontes
"forgive a foolish woman." 28 Paulina's initial
assertiveness before the king is mitigated as she
stereotypes herself as the foolish, impetuous woman. She
promises the king that, henceforth, she will "say
nothing." 29 While we know that Paulina has devised a clever
plan to save Hermione from the king's tyrannical behavior,
Paulina is, none the less, forced to construct herself as
the silent and obedient woman of the conduct books, thereby
25 The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 137.
26 The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 147.
27 The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 221
28 The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 227.
The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 232
remaining in Leontes's good stead until she "resurrects"
Whether a member of the court or a dweller in the
country, a woman is enjoined to be silent. Traditionally a
place for Shakespeare's comic heroines to display their
witticism, women lose their elocutionary license in this
pastoral setting. The clown at the sheep-shearing feast
instructs two shepherdesses, "Clamor your tongues and not a
word more." 30 And if a woman is asked to speak her mind, as
Perdita is when the Shepherd queries his adopted daughter
about her love for Florizel, she demeans her own speech by
comparing it to Florizel' s "pure" discourse: "I cannot
speak so well noting so well; no, nor mean better. By th'
pattern of mine own thoughts I cut out the purity of his." 31
Erickson writes that Perdita, complicit with her feminine
socialization, demonstrates a "demeanor of compliant
radiance" that "points the way to the traditional image of
woman espoused by the play." 3 2 This image, of course, finds
its paradigm in conduct books for women.
Hermione' s final recourse is to become not only silent
but also motionless. Static, yet somehow alive for sixteen
years, the statuesque Hermione is the epitome of the
gesturally-obedient conduct book wife:
30 The Winter's Tale, IV. iv. 24 6-47 .
31 The Winter's Tale, IV. iv. 380-81
Erickson, "The Limitations of Reformed Masculinity in The Winter's
You are taught to Enter your Chambers
and be still. Still, and yet stirring
still. Still from the clamours and
turbulent insults of the World; still
from the mutinous motions and
innouations of the flesh. 32
Paulina, too, may very well be following conduct book
advice in regard to a spouse's madness:
Now although perpetuall madnesse be a
iust impediment of mariage, and a
sufficient cause to dissolue a
contract, yet it is meet that there be
a conuenient space of time agreed vpon,
wherein all meanes may be vsed for the
curing of this disease, to the end that
Gods wil touching their amendment may
be the more euidently knowne.... 34
Paulina engages in the waiting game, believing that time
and her guarded remonstrations will cure Leontes's madness.
Ultimately, Paulina's "magic" resurrects Hermione, who
returns to her repentant and, hopefully, stable husband.
In spite of his egregious behavior, Hermoine gladly accepts
her role as the submissive wife. As one conduct books
Therefore, when the husbands are
afflicted with any infirmitie, eyther
of body or minde, let the wives be
ready both in worde and deede to
comfort them, whereby they shall see
33 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 48.
William Perkins, Christian Oeconomie: or, A Short Survey of the Right
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Familie, According to the Scriptures
(London, 1609) 75.
their love will grow more fervent and
Immediately after being brought back to life, Hermione
embraces Leontes and "hangs about his neck" 36 like an
ornament. Ornament or statue, Hermione remains an icon
whose will is restrained by her own body. She has learned,
as one conduct books says, "it is not enough...to be
innocent"; a wife "ought not even to be suspected." 37
However, Leontes, like so many of his contemporary
dramatic characters, fails to heed the instructions given
to men in both the Bible and conduct books. According to
Paul, the husband is to love his wife like his own body.
He is to cherish, protect, and respect her just as Christ
did the Church. He is not to "turne his auctorite unto
tirannye." 38 Still and all, this rarely occurs in early
modern drama. Instead, we often see a wife severely
delimited both in her physical and social space by an
overbearing husband, father, or male guardian. While
Leontes promises to place his "ill suspicion" 39 between
Hermione' s "holy looks," 40 playing the role of the repentant
The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter XII, n. pag,
36 The Winter's Tale V.iii.114.
37 Jacques DuBosc, "Of Reputation," The Compleate Woman (London 1639)
38 Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony, Chapter 17.
39 The Winter's Tale, V.iii.149.
The Winter's Tale, V.iii.l4l
husband, he asserts his authority as partner in a "pair of
kings," 41 by informing Paulina 42 she is to marry Camillo.
Ironically, the seemingly powerful conjurer who has
delivered Hermione from her husband's obsessive jealousy
and Leontes from his apparent madness, must obey the King
and marry a man of his choosing. With the status quo
restored to Sicilia, Leontes promptly reasserts himself.
One wonders how long Hermione' s "holy looks" will affect
her husband's disposition.
Hermione suffers the consequences of a masculine
misreading of her body and is banished from court and
stage. Rendered inert, she patiently awaits a revised
translation of her feminine gesturology. This
accomplished, she descends from her platform as immobile
statue only to ascend to her husband's neck to dangle as an
ornament in "obsequye and obedience." According to one
conduct book, in regard to dealing with a husband "in
afflication," a wife must not be like Job's wife and play
the "Deuills attorney"; instead, she is to "pacifie him
with wordes of grace, and vse those pleasing partes, which
41 The Winter's Tale, V.iii.147
Jean E. Howard, in The Norton Shakespeare, points out the irony of
Paulina's name: "Once reviled by Leontes as a witch, Paulina becomes
the King's spiritual guide in the last half of the play (her name
linking her to the New Testament evangelist, St. Paul)" (2880). In
spite of this apparently authoritative position, Paulina marries at the
king's orders. Her namesake, St. Paul, advised Christians to marry if
they could not control their lust. Once again, a woman, a widow in
particular, is marked as sexually-voracious and incontinent.
God hat giue[n] her for his appeasement." 43 Furthermore, a
wife must not discourage her husband, rail against him, or
be headstrong or extravagant. If she behaves properly, she
will "bee ioyned with Christ the Husband of the Church." 44
Made by God to be given to man, a woman, even in eternity,
will be the wife and property of another male authority
figure, a fate she apparently never will be able to escape,
even though she supposedly will "bee made equall with [her
husband] in Heauen." 45
The theater and literature will always reflect real
life to some degree, and early modern dramas and conduct
books are sites where the female body is plied like
Pygmalion, molded by male fantasy to please its maker's
gaze and to elevate his ego. In this sense, the plays and
the conduct books inhabit a space that is both fictional
and real. Women, it seems, were always "under
construction," no matter what the medium of fashioning or
locus of the body. It is difficult to ascertain to what
degree "real" women resembled their representations on
stage. However, acknowledging the similarities in the
ideal woman, manifested both on and off the boards, it
would seem that women were expected to behave as the
conduct books exhorted them. The constant din of the
43 Francis Meres, Gods Arithmeticke (London, 1597), n. pag.
44 Meres, Gods Arithmeticke, n. pag.
45 Meres, Gods Arithmeticke, n. pag.
masculine voices insisting upon the need for a wife to
submit, body and soul, to her husband may be an attempt to
drown out the rumble of a feminist movement, and it may
not. As so many scholars have noted, we have a paucity of
records in regard to the everyday lives of early modern
women and how they responded to their representations on
stage or their guidelines of behavior as set forth in
Kathleen McLuskie suggests that men were the target
audience in the theater and playgoing was added to their
list of fashionable diversions. Women did attend with
other groups of women and with men. However, the accounts
written about their attendance commodifies and objectifies
them. By all accounts, women's participation, either as
members of the audience or as patrons, was marginalized.
Although women were addressed in prologues and epilogues,
this practice frequently was executed to illustrate sexual
difference and to extend the "comic sex war beyond the
action of the plays into the world of the audience." 46
McLuskie concludes that we cannot know how women responded
to their representation on stage or what enjoyment they
derived from the theater. 47 In the same way, we cannot know
how women responded to their representation on the page of
Kathleen McLuskie, Renaissance Dramatists (Atlantic Highlands, NJ:
Humanities, 1989), 96.
McLuskie, Renaissance Dramatists, 96.
The representation of a woman' s body, either on the
stage in the form of a play-boy' s body or on the conduct-
book page as the ideal wife, was almost exclusively a male
construct. How that construct played out in real life
remains an issue of debate. Essentialized and stereotyped,
the represented female body on stage elicited male erotic
pleasure, whether homosexually or heterosexually and,
thereby, helped support an emerging capitalist venture.
The often lucrative business of the commercial theater
realized substantial profits for some its male playwrights,
actors, and theater impresarios. Additionally, as Suzanne
W. Hull has shown, conduct book authors were realizing
financial rewards as they constructed and instructed the
"ideal" wife within her delimited domestic sphere and
As conduct books were eschewing the excesses of the
artistocratic woman, her speech, her dress, her going
abroad from her house, female characters on stage who
displayed similar characteristics and who did not "reform"
themselves in marriage were vilified and effaced because
their appearance and demeanor translated as "eye-catching."
Once women acquired the skills to subvert the outward
signifiers of their inward state, they became moral shills,
imposters of their souls. As a result, men could no longer
read a woman's interior against her exterior. Her feminine
gesturology, the supposed signifier of a woman's inner
state, could be sabotaged, disguising one's moral
turpitude. The very gestures that "announced" disguised
pages as the chaste women they were beneath their stuffed
codpieces now proclaimed the undisguised as the virgins
they were not.
The codified movements of a woman's body could not be
taken at face value. Women, the conduct book writers and
male characters soon realized, were beginning to write
their own scripts, using the play of their unspoken words
to create a multiplicity of meaning. Such an ambiguity, of
course, was unacceptable. The female characters were
expunged from the stage, permitted to return only when they
could be "recast" into the masculine script and when their
bodies could be read with certainty. Likewise, the
aristocratic woman had to be refashioned in conduct books
into the ideal wife of the middle classes to enable her
interpellation into an emergent capitalist society and its
concomitant family ideology. More than likely, this was
not always a successful venture. The dramas seem to
indicate a feminine resistance to masculine fashioning, a
subversion of signs, a resistance that oftentimes had
severe repercussions. The tragedies, where women often are
imprisoned, tortured, beaten, and flayed open, indicate the
potentially serious nature of a masculine anxiety to such a
resistance. Comedies and tragicomedies were, it seems,
preparing the way for a dramatic genre that removed the
representation of women from the stage entirely, sometimes
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I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree, with a major in
English and a minor in Business Administration, from Queens
College in Charlotte, North Carolina, in May 1990,
graduating Summa Cum Laude. While at Queens College, I was
a member of Sigma Upsilon Writers Fraternity and received
the Majorie Blankenship Melton Creative Writing Award in
Drama and the Evelyn Faires English Award. I received my
Master of Arts Degree, with a major in English, from The
University of North Carolina-Charlotte in August 1992.
While at UNC-C, I was inducted into The Honor Society of
Phi Kappa Phi, received the Women's Studies Essay Award,
and was granted a Graduate Teaching Assistantship. I
received my Doctor of Philosophy Degree, with a major in
English, from the University of Florida in December 1997.
While at The University of Florida, I received an
Excellence in Teaching Award, and was granted a College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellowship, The
Bowers Dissertation Fellowship, and a Graduate Teaching
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Ira Clark, Chair
Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
R. Allen Shoaf
Professor of Englf&h
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
James A . P^xson
Associate Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
J#nn M. MurcfTek
''Assistant Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
C. John Sommerville
Professor of History
This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate
Faculty of the Department of English in the College of
Liberal and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was
accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Dean, Graduate School
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
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